The Alabama Crimson Tide took firm control of the SEC West on Saturday by blowing out the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Pair that win with LSU's loss, and the team got even more cushion for its drive to Atlanta.
MSU had a rough time of it, but it wasn't for a lack of chances. Alabama won the game with room to spare on the scoreboard, but it didn't have to be that big of a final margin. This review is based on the Five Factors of winning, and it ends when the game went to garbage time—namely, when Bama scored its final touchdown in the fourth quarter to give the game its 31-6 margin. All sacks count as pass plays here.
|Team||Runs 10+||Pct.||Passes 20+||Pct.||Explosive Pct.|
Believe it or not, State actually held the Tide to a middle-of-the-road explosiveness rate on the ground and a very low one in the air. The problem that the Bulldogs had is that they didn't put a cap on those explosive plays. The one big pass play was a 60-yard touchdown catch for Calvin Ridley. Two of the four big runs were a 74-yard touchdown run and a 65-yard touchdown run, respectively, by Derrick Henry.
Alabama didn't often get yards in big chunks, but when it did, they were enormous chunks. If a team wants to beat the Tide, it can't give up three easy touchdowns.
|Team||Run SR||Pass SR||Overall SR||Red Zone SR|
How does a team run 77 plays to the opponent's 49, as Mississippi State did, while trailing so badly in efficiency? Well, allowing long touchdown plays is one strategy to cut the opponent's drives short. Another is to be decent on conversions. MSU was a combined 7-for-21 on third and fourth down in the scope of this review. It had a 13-play drive in the second quarter that ended in a turnover on downs where literally the only success plays were three third down conversions.
I will also add that Alabama only had one red zone play. Again: several really long touchdowns, plus a punt return TD in the second quarter to boot.
|Team||1Q SR||2Q SR||3Q SR||4Q SR|
The Bulldogs' third quarter field goal drive was really the only one where it got moving steadily. The first six plays were all successes before two straight sacks killed the momentum. It is a little funny that Alabama's efficiency rate was far higher in the second half, where it scored ten points as opposed to the 21 in the first half. I don't feel like I need to repeat myself on the explanation for that one.
Efficiency by Player
|Player||Comp. Pct.||Pass Eff.||Yards/Att||Sacks||Pass SR|
This was a muted performance for Coker, I guess you could say. His biggest highlight was mostly Ridley doing the work, but he didn't turn it over and didn't take any sacks. I think Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin would probably take this more often than not, but they'd also hope to see more of the Coker who roasted Georgia.
This wasn't a game for the ages for Prescott. Taking nine sacks is partly on him, but it's also on a line that just couldn't hold back the crazy good Crimson Tide defensive front. He went down fighting for sure, but Bama made sure that this was not going to be his day.
Ridley's long catch-and-run made up for an otherwise low yards per target rate (just 2.0 per target without it). Aside from that big play, MSU's defense really did well against the pass.
Ross, Gray, and Walley are the only ones that really stick out here. Wilson getting just three catches from ten targets is pretty rough.
Henry is starting to soak up the Heisman hype that Leonard Fournette is leaking, but those two big runs inflate his numbers quite a bit. Without them, he had just 3.3 yards per carry on 20 rushes. That's not that good, although his success rate would still be a healthy 50.0%. If MSU's defense didn't have lapses, this would have been a much different game.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, ifs can't be converted into points.
One of the under-covered stories of this season is the collapse of the Mississippi State run game. Shumpert was supposed to step into the Josh Robinson role; he had only a single carry prior to garbage time and fumbled on it. Holloway is a boom-or-bust guy, leaving the majority of the load once again on Prescott. Backup Nick Fitzgerald, who came in to get a few reps late in the game, looks like a twig compared to Prescott. He's not going to be able to run this many times if he wins the starting job, so someone has to step up from the running back unit.
|Team||Avg. Starting Position||Plays in Opp. Territory||Pct. Of Total|
|Mississippi State||Own 24||31||40.3%|
A team isn't going to rack up many plays in opponent territory when it's scoring from 60-70 yards out frequently.
A trip inside the 40 is a drive with a first down at the 40 or closer or a long scoring play from beyond. A red zone trip is a drive with a first down at the 20 or closer.
|Team||Drives||Trips Inside 40||Points||Red Zone Trips||Points|
Three of Alabama's four scoring opportunities were long TDs, so in eight other drives, Mississippi State allowed just one trip inside the 40. I know I keep saying it, but it was the key to the game: had MSU not let those big plays happen, it's a whole different ball game. Everything else that happen suggests that Alabama's offense wouldn't have gotten much from those drives absent the long scores.
State, meanwhile, had plenty of scoring chances but got very little from them. I wasn't expecting to see bend-but-don't-break from Alabama's defense this year, but it kind of did some of that. Also, it never broke.
Shumpert's fumble and Coker's interception were the only turnovers in the scope of this review, and the ensuing drives after each of them ended in punts. This phase of the game didn't really make a difference.
Mississippi State had everything going its way early, but it couldn't cash in with any points. It drove down to the Alabama one-yard-line where it turned it over on downs. Coker threw a pick on the ensuing drive, but it turned into a punt from the Bama 41. Shumpert fumbled it to set up the Tide in plus territory, but the defense held and forced a punt. Donald Gray's 54-yard reception then gave MSU the ball at the Crimson 33, but it turned into a missed field goal. It felt like MSU was just wasting the game away.
Sure enough, it was. The second quarter came, and that's when the fact that Alabama is unfairly talented took over. Cyrus Jones's punt return touchdown swung the momentum. Ridley's long TD then happened then next time the Bama offense touched the ball. MSU could only answer with a field goal, and it did nothing to stem the Tide as Henry's 74-yard touchdown came the drive afterwards. Just like that, it was 21-3. Game over, man.
Dan Mullen should get a ton of credit for what his team has done this year. Mississippi State won't fall to the basement of the West, where nearly everyone who makes predictions put the team. It plays hard and doesn't have a bad loss on the season. It gave Alabama a great game, but its youth and inexperience showed up on both sides between the nine sacks allowed and big plays given up. This game could have been so much closer in score.
As for Alabama, it too has some flaws, but they can be easily compensated for thanks to players like Henry and Ridley. Oh yeah, and also thanks to having what is essentially 2015's youngest NFL defensive line rotation. It's a funny thing to say, but Bama keeps finding ways to win games by large margins. It's not been the same way from week to week like with past teams. The results are similar though, as Bama looks on track to finish 11-1 for the fifth straight season and win at least 11 regular season games for the seventh time in eight years.
That's completely bonkers, considering things like the 85-scholarship cap and the generally high quality of the SEC West over that same span. It's easy to focus on those sporadic losses and ask what happened, but Saban's standard of excellence surpasses anything anyone has seen in a long, long time.