No. 2 Alabama is now one win away from the SEC West title after dispatching of No. 17 Mississippi State, 31-6, on Saturday evening in Starkville.
Let’s break it down:
Jake Coker (15-of-25 for 144 yards) made several solid throws, but also reverted back to his old ways with an ugly first-half interception that had no chance at finding a receiver. He remains the team’s weakest link until his decision making improves (spoiler: It probably won’t at this point).
The good news: Coker has one of the country’s best security blankets in Derrick Henry, who ran for two long touchdowns en route to his second straight 200-yard game, and third of the season. Henry and the O-line look like an unstoppable combo.
Freshman receiver Calvin Ridley impressed again, too. The seemingly NFL-ready youngster had a beautiful 60-yard catch-and-run that helped break the game open in the first half.
What more can be said about this unit? It kept ‘Bama square early with a huge 4th-and-goal stuff from the 1-yard line. Then it set about destroying Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, who was sacked nine times (his previous career high was three).
The secondary gave up a few too many big plays, but those didn’t end up factoring into the final score. Prescott is a record-setting quarterback, and ‘Bama has been responsible for his worst game in each of the past two seasons (he threw three picks against the Tide last November).
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Cyrus Jones’ 69-yard punt return kicked Alabama into gear after a sluggish start. That kind of momentum is invaluable, especially when the offense was having serious trouble moving the ball.
Kickoff coverage was excellent. Kicker Adam Griffith nailed a 42-yard field goal but had a 32-yarder blocked, while punter JK Scott was underwhelming — but got some lucky bounces en route to a 40.0 average on five kicks.
Lane Kiffin’s initial pass-heavy approach was highly questionable, and put Alabama in position to get down early. But thanks to Kirby Smart’s defense and a big play from the special teams (see above), Kiffin and his boys were able to settle down and make a trio of huge plays (three touchdowns of 65 yards or more) before all was said and done.
For the third time this season, the Crimson Tide walked into a ranked opponent’s stadium and licked them. Any road win in the SEC is worth a passing grade, but Nick Saban’s group continues to ace its biggest exams.