Alabama Football: 10 Things We Learned from Alabama's Win over Mississippi State
With a prime-time matchup against an unbeaten challenger stepping into its lair, the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide delivered another emphatic statement with a 38-7 beatdown of No. 11 Mississippi State.
Nick Saban’s club got off to another quick start, and the defense stymied the high-powered Bulldogs' attack en route to a commanding 24-0 halftime lead.
A.J. McCarron led the offense to touchdowns on its first three possessions, hitting seven different receivers in the first half—including touchdown strikes to Kenny Bell and Michael Williams.
The defense and special teams both pitched in with sterling efforts to help the Tide improve to 8-0.
What significant tidbits can Tide fans take away from their latest impressive victory?
Here are 10 things we learned from the Tide’s victory over Mississippi State.
10. Tight Ends and Running Backs Bolster Passing Game
Last season, Alabama’s tight ends and running backs were a significant part of its passing attack.
But with the emergence of the receiving group this season, Williams has turned into more of a blocking tight end, and the backs have not been as involved in the passing game.
That trend changed against the Bulldogs, with Williams hauling in five receptions for 38 yards and a touchdown and Eddie Lacy recording four receptions for 51 yards and a score.
To put that outburst in perspective, both players entered the game with a combined 19 receptions for 130 yards and two scores.
9. Bell Digs the Long Ball
Entering the season, junior receiver Kenny Bell was expected to become Alabama’s main deep threat this season.
While freshman Amari Cooper has emerged as the team’s go-to playmaker, Bell has come on strong the last two weeks.
In the first quarter, Bell got behind All-American corner Johnthan Banks and streaked in for a 58-yard touchdown to extend Alabama’s lead to 14-0.
That reception was Bell’s only catch, but it represents his third touchdown catch of more than 40 yards and the second week in a row he has struck for an explosive scoring play.
8. Domination in the Trenches
Alabama earned a decided advantage in the trenches, which helped the Tide control the action on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
The offense rushed for 179 yards while averaging nearly five yards per carry, while the defense held the SEC’s leading rusher—Bulldogs running back LaDarius Perkins—to just 38 yards on 15 attempts.
With MSU's offense backed into a corner and having to heavily rely on the pass, the Tide's defense teed off on Russell and harassed him into his worst performance of the season.
7. Defensive Adjustments Stifle MSU
Russell and the Bulldogs offense came out hot and drove into the red zone before coming up empty thanks to a blocked field goal attempt.
However, Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart mixed up their looks after the first quarter and brought out several blitzes that Russell was unable to escape.
Whether it was blitzing safeties like Vinnie Sunseri or linebackers like C.J. Mosley, the Tide turned up the pressure at the start of the second quarter.
Alabama would force the Bulldogs into four three-and-outs and a final four-play possession that ended the half—with that period essentially ending Mississippi State’s chances to remain competitive in the game.
6. Nussmeier Pulling Strings
Mississippi State entered this game posing a significant challenge because of the talent they possess on defense—as evidenced by ranking 25th nationally in total defense entering this game.
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier kept the Bulldogs on their heels from the outset with his play-calling.
McCarron attacked the flats with his tight ends and running backs early, which opened up throws down the field later on.
Plus, Alabama was able to run the ball with Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon effectively throughout the game.
Although the offense hit a lull in the second half, the transition into the I-formation represented their intent to grind it out in the second half.
5. First Quarter Blitz Continues
Alabama has consistently been able to get a jump on its opponents by striking in the first quarter early and often.
After jumping out to a 14-0 lead against Mississippi State, Alabama has now outscored opponents by a margin of 104-3 in the first 15 minutes this season.
Additionally, Alabama was able to extend its lead and go into the break up 24-0—which represented the seventh time in eight games that the Tide took a lead of at least 20 points into intermission.
4. Freshmen Old Enough to Make a Difference
Yeldon and Cooper once again showed up as heavy contributors to the Tide’s most recent offensive outburst.
But quarterback Phillip Ely was able to record the first touchdown pass of his career—a 27-yard screen pass to Lacy in the fourth quarter.
Plus, backup running back Kenyan Drake scored the fifth touchdown of his career for Alabama’s final score, and true freshman Denzel Devall picked up the second sack of his career when he corralled Russell early in the second quarter.
One freshman who did not have the most pleasant evening was defensive back Geno Smith, who was on the receiving end of a patented Saban tirade after Alabama lost its shutout with less than five minutes remaining in the game.
3. Red Zone Defense
Alabama’s stop on the Bulldogs initial possession paved the way for the offense to strike quickly and seize a two-touchdown lead early and essentially bury MSU’s upset bid.
However, Smart’s troops delivered another crushing blow in the third quarter when Robert Lester picked off Russell on third-and-goal that ended a 16-play, 97-yard drive without points.
Although the Bulldogs got in for a late score on Alabama’s reserves, the defense stepped up to the challenge and helped keep the momentum squarely behind the home team from the outset.
2. Special Teams Shine
Aside from a big return by Perkins after Alabama’s first score, the special teams unit turned in a body of work that may be that unit’s best of the 2012 season.
Dee Milliner blocked Devon Bell’s 31-yard first quarter field goal attempt, and punter Cody Mandell helped the Tide win the field position battle all night long by consistently pinning the Bulldogs deep in their own territory.
Kicker Jeremy Shelley booted a short field goal on his only attempt, and if you add a pair of forced fumbles by the kickoff and punt coverage teams, Saban has to feel good about that unit heading into next week’s showdown at LSU.
1. AJ in the Zone
McCarron’s stats may not match the eye-popping numbers he posted in last week’s win over Tennessee, but he was able to pick apart a strong Bulldogs secondary and post another efficient performance without making any mistakes.
McCarron went 16-of-23 for 208 yards and two touchdowns, despite sitting out the final period after suffering a bruise on his back.
His strike to Bell was a perfectly thrown deep ball, and he was able to make a few others that will definitely be candidates for his NFL draft reel.
Considering the opponent, it was another strong effort for McCarron and adds more steam to the case to add his name into the mix for the Heisman Trophy.
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