Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide shook off a sluggish effort to defeat Mississippi State 20-7.
After breezing through a five-game stretch filled with dominant play, top-ranked Alabama endured a sloppy performance before putting away a scrappy Mississippi State team in a 20-7 win.
The game mirrored the Tide’s last trip to Starkville in 2011. Coincidentally, this game also continued a recent trend of the Tide coming out flat in the week following the annual slugfest against LSU.
The Tide’s offense struggled to gain a consistent rhythm, but Nick Saban's defense stepped up to hold the Bulldogs off the scoreboard until the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Dan Mullen’s club repeatedly cost itself chances to put pressure on a Tide team that was facing uncharacteristic periods of struggle.
What are the main takeaways from the Tide’s win over the Bulldogs?
Mississippi State’s defense has endured a rough season at times, especially in its five prior losses to ranked teams.
The Bulldogs had given up an average of nearly 38 points per game in those previous outings. However, they harassed the two-time defending champs into four turnovers and managed to limit the Tide to their lowest scoring output this season.
Young players such as sophomore corner Taveze Calhoun (two interceptions) and freshman defensive lineman Chris Jones (one sack) are the type of players who give the Bulldogs a nice foundation to build around on defense.
In a game that featured two offenses who struggled mightily to find a rhythm, it was Alabama’s special teams that helped push the Tide to win the field-position battle.
Punter Cody Mandell averaged 55 yards on his four punts, including a career-long 63-yarder that pinned the Bulldogs inside their own 3-yard line.
Gunner and special teams demon Landon Collins continued his strong play on coverage units by forcing a fumble from Bulldogs return man Jameon Lewis that resulted in 20 yards of lost field position.
Cade Foster chipped in with two field goals, and the coverage units responded with a strong performance after last week’s struggles against LSU.
The biggest sequence of the game surrounded Mississippi State’s first trip inside the red zone late in the first half. Down only 3-0 and after driving to the Alabama 2-yard line, the Bulldogs missed a short field-goal attempt and watched the Tide score late to take a 10-0 lead into the break.
Whether it was dropped passes, special teams blunders or botched offensive execution inside the red zone, the Bulldogs were unable to capitalize on a slew of chances to put more pressure on the Tide.
Even though Dan Mullen’s club acquitted themselves well with its effort, he and his players will have a hard time forgetting about the self-inflicted wounds they made that prevented them from pulling off an improbable upset.
Unlike his predecessors, T.J. Yeldon’s body of work as the Tide’s lead back has flown under the radar despite his strong numbers.
Yeldon’s streak of seven consecutive games with a touchdown came to an end, and his third-quarter fumble led to the Bulldogs’ only score of the game. However, he still managed to rush for a career-high 159 yards on 24 carries.
In the process, he surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season and displayed why he’s regarded as one of the nation’s top running backs.
In the fifth year of the Dan Mullen era, this game, in some ways, serves as a microcosm of the program under his leadership.
There were periods where the Bulldogs went toe-to-toe with the sport’s most feared power, but ultimately, they were drowned out by a slew of mistakes typical of a program that is still in transition.
For the Bulldogs to play up to their potential, they have to learn to get past those roadblocks and eventually pull off a win such as this that serves as a landmark for their program.
After five straight games where the offense topped the 30-point mark, Alabama’s offensive effort against the Bulldogs looked like a flashback to the season opener against Virginia Tech.
Following a field goal on their opening drive, the Tide sandwiched two punts in between a fumble and an interception.
The second half featured turnovers on their first two possessions of the fourth quarter.
While AJ McCarron made enough plays to keep the Tide comfortably in the lead, there were enough mental mistakes for Saban and his staff to use the film of this game as a teaching tool.
With Dak Prescott missing Saturday’s game and Tyler Russell getting banged up and unable to finish the game, Dan Mullen’s quandary at quarterback moving forward presents a dilemma.
Freshman Damian Williams was clearly ineffective in relief of an injured Russell, and the Bulldogs could be in trouble if either Prescott or Russell can’t return in time for next week’s game against Arkansas.
The Bulldogs missed Prescott’s ability to make plays with his feet, and his versatility would have especially been helpful in the Bulldogs’ three trips inside the Tide’s red zone.
The uncertainty at the most important position on the field could hinder the Bulldogs’ chances to win their final two games and achieve bowl eligibility.
For the third consecutive season, the Tide came out flat in the week following their annual slugfest against LSU.
The offensive line was pushed around for most of the first half, which is atypical of a team that prides itself on being physical at the point of attack.
While Mississippi State deserves credit for playing inspired football, especially on defense, a lot of Alabama’s problems resulted from mistakes typical of a team that lacked focus and intensity.
If there is one player whom Saban can rely on to bring the same effort and intensity level to every game, its senior linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Mosley led a strong defensive effort that held the Bulldogs to just 197 yards of total offense. Perhaps more importantly, he spearheaded the charge to keep the Bulldogs out of the end zone on multiple occasions when turnovers forced the defense to protect a short field.
Even when segments of the Tide looked listless, Mosley’s energy and leadership were on full display for 60 minutes. It was the type of game that reinforced his standing as one of the nation’s top defensive players.
The Tide’s victory over Mississippi State serves as a notice that the road to a third consecutive national title will not come without hardships.
Fortunately for supporters wearing crimson, the Tide were able to digest that lesson after an ugly victory—which is a bit of good fortune in comparison to November losses in each of the last two title runs.
With the season finale at archrival Auburn looming and a potential SEC title game, a performance like this came at a perfect time in the schedule for Saban and his staff to fix the issues that came to light against the Bulldogs.