Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide looked strong in all three phases in its 38-7 rout of Mississippi State.
On a weekend highlighted by top teams making loud statements, the most convincing display came from top-ranked Alabama in its 38-7 dismantling of previously unbeaten Mississippi State.
Nick Saban’s club essentially beat the belief out of the 11th-ranked Bulldogs from the opening kickoff and coasted to another dominating victory—which has been par for the course through eight games this season.
It is admittedly hard to find flaws with the complete destruction of the Bulldogs, but rest assured, a noted perfectionist like Saban will find areas where he would like to see his team improve.
Which players are likely safe in next week’s film sessions, and which ones could be in his crosshairs?
Here are the Tide’s winners and losers from the Week 9 win over the Bulldogs.
In the early going, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier appeared to aggressively attack the flats with his tight ends and running backs in matchups against the Bulldogs linebackers.
10 of Alabama’s 17 pass completions were to those two units, with tight end Michael Williams and running back Eddie Lacy combining for nine receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown apiece.
The strategy was successful considering that it loosened up the Bulldogs secondary, which allowed A.J. McCarron to hit a few deep passes and help put the game on ice going into halftime.
Freshmen running backs T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake also chewed up chunks of yardage on the ground and each was able to reach the end zone.
While the tight ends and running backs were the beneficiaries of the Tide’s attack early on, the receivers had a modest evening in terms of that group’s production.
The wide receiver unit caught just seven passes—including none in the second half.
Freshman phenom Amari Cooper was the only wideout that had more than one catch (four receptions for 47 yards), and his evening was tame compared to his outbursts in previous weeks.
On the flipside, junior Kenny Bell’s 57-yard touchdown reception was the biggest passing play of the game.
Alabama’s defensive line rebounded from an average performance against Tennessee a week ago and put together one of its best efforts of the season against the Bulldogs.
Although the Tide only registered one sack (and that was by freshman linebacker Denzel Devall), the line was responsible for putting constant pressure on Bulldogs quarterback Tyler Russell.
Senior defensive end Damion Square was credited with three quarterback hurries, and the three man front limited MSU to less than three yards per carry on the ground.
Additionally, the line was able to stiffen twice when MSU entered the red zone—which resulted in a blocked field goal and a Robert Lester interception.
The defense was simply masterful through the first three quarters when the game was still competitive and the Tide’s starters were on the field.
Late in the fourth quarter in what amounted to garbage time with backups in for both squads, Alabama’s defensive reserves blew a chance to record a shutout by allowing the Bulldogs to mount a late scoring drive.
Saban was seen on ESPN’s telecast lighting into freshman defensive back Geno Smith following that possession, and it is clear that the younger guys in backup roles have room to grow and improve as the season moves forward.
Alabama’s special teams unit may have enjoyed its best performance this season in the decisive win over the Bulldogs.
A blocked field goal and a pair of fumble recoveries by the coverage units are worthy of praise, but punter Cody Mandell played a major role in consistently pinning Mississippi State deep in its own territory.
Three of Mandell’s five punts resulted with MSU taking possession inside its own 20-yard line , which exacerbated the task of Dan Mullen’s offense trying to engineer a scoring drive against the Tide’s rugged defense.
One of the bright spots of last weekend’s win over Tennessee was the brilliant debut of Cyrus Jones, the team’s newly-minted starting punt returner.
While the true freshman did not make any mistakes, he was held in check by Mississippi State punter Baker Swedenburg.
Jones was only able to muster one return for four yards on Swedenburg’s six punts.
It is worth noting that Swedenburg excels at limiting return yards with high kicks, and the fact that this area is one of Alabama’s slights is a nod to just how dominant the Tide were in this game.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron continued his stellar 2012 campaign by slicing up the Bulldogs defense with an efficient 208-yard, two-touchdown effort.
McCarron also showed no ill effects from a knee injury suffered two weeks ago against Missouri, as he was consistently able to elude pressure and make plays whenever the Bulldogs did bring some heat.
Backup signal-callers Phillip Ely and Blake Sims also got in on the fun late in the game.
Ely threw the first touchdown pass of his career (a 27-yard screen pass to Eddie Lacy) and Sims led another scoring drive in the final period.
Considering that the Bulldogs have thrived all season long by forcing turnovers, McCarron and the offense had no issues securing the ball and rolling up impressive numbers that led to another emphatic victory.