The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide remain perfect following a 24-0 victory over the No. 16 Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Tua Tagovailoa continues to set the pace in the Heisman Trophy race. The sophomore quarterback threw for 164 yards, one touchdowns and an interception.
Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald finished 11-of-20 for 125 yards. The senior also had minus-23 rushing yards as he struggled to cope with Alabama's defensive pressure.
Status of Tagovailoa's Injured Leg Overshadows Victory for Alabama
Early on, it looked like Tagovailoa was on his way to another standout showing. Alabama scored touchdowns on each of its first two possessions, and Tagovailoa was 5-of-6 for 67 yards.
The Crimson Tide then slowed down for the rest of the evening.
Tagovailoa's lingering knee injury likely played a role in his performance. He was slow to get to his feet after a sack by Bulldogs linebacker Willie Gay Jr. On the next play, he threw an interception to Gay.
Later in the third quarter, Tagovailoa headed for Alabama's medical tent following a sack by Bulldogs cornerback Cameron Dantzler.
With Jalen Hurts still nursing an ankle injury, Mac Jones took over as the Tide's starting quarterback on their first drive of the fourth quarter and finished out the game.
Alabama boasts a ton of talented skill position players and a defense that ranked 11th in yards allowed and seventh in scoring entering Week 11. Turning to a healthy Hurts or Jones wouldn't be a disaster for Saban, but what looked like an unbeatable Tide squad becomes a little more vulnerable if Tagovailoa is out injured.
Tagovailoa playing at less than 100 percent creates problems of its own, too, since he plants off his right knee for most of his throws.
The fact Tagovailoa was unable to finish Saturday's game takes some of the momentum out of Alabama's 10th victory.
Mississippi State Defense Shows Blueprint for Slowing Down Alabama Offense
Alabama's first two drives totaled 156 yards. The Crimson Tide finished with 305 total yards, well below their season average (565.6). The much-hyped Mississippi State defense lived up to its billing for the most part as it made life difficult for Tagovailoa and the running back duo of Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris.
More than anything, the Bulldogs showed how bringing the heat to Tagovailoa can be a successful tactic.
For one, harassing Tagovailoa in the pocket brings his injured right leg into play more. That's the risk Alabama takes by putting him under center when he's not fully healthy. Especially with the NCAA's rules on targeting, defenders are going to aim for Tagovailoa's legs when they attempt to bring him down for a sack.
Then there's the obvious fact Tagovailoa is less effective when he has to rush his throws.
His 164 passing yards Saturday were his second-lowest of the season, which wasn't a coincidence. Mississippi State did an excellent job of forcing Tagovailoa to look off his primary targets and get him moving around in the pocket, and the Tide offense couldn't find a rhythm after those first two drives as a result.
Poor Officiating Does Little to Quell SEC Conspiracy Theories
Last week, ESPN apologized to the SEC after political pundit James Carville went on College GameDay and alleged the conference was conspiring to aid Alabama.
There's clearly no truth to that theory, but Saturday's game provided some fuel to the conspiracy theorists.
Harris appeared to fumble in the first quarter but was called down by the referees.
Granted, Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead might deserve more credit for not challenging the play, and it was an almost impossible decision to get correct live in the moment.
More egregiously, Bulldogs wide receiver Deddrick Thomas was whistled for a block in the back on an 11-yard touchdown reception by Kylin Hill. Subsequent replays showed Thomas didn't make any contact with the Alabama defender before Hill crossed the goal line.
The Crimson Tide don't need any help to be the best team in college football, and Saturday's game came down to far more than the phantom block in the back and Harris' potential fumble. But the first call in particular will ensure the Alabama conspiracy theories live on for another week.
Alabama has what's essentially a tuneup game against The Citadel on Nov. 17 before the Iron Bowl at home to the Auburn Tigers on Nov. 24. Mississippi State hosts the Arkansas Razorbacks on Nov. 17 before hitting the road for the Egg Bowl against the Ole Miss Rebels on Nov. 22.