Mississippi State report card: A disappointing performance on all fronts versus Alabama
Mississippi State fell to Alabama 31-6 at home on Saturday in what had the makings of a statement game for the Bulldogs but turned into a deflating defeat. Here are the grades Mississippi State deserves after the game:
The one highlight of a miserable game for the Bulldogs’ offense — in which the offensive line allowed their quarterback to be sacked nine times (NINE TIMES) — was their ability to move the ball. Quarterback Dak Prescott threw for 300 yards, and MSU outgained Alabama in total yards (393-379) and first downs (20-13). But moving the ball doesn’t do much when you can’t score. Mississippi State was 2-for-3 in the red zone on Saturday with two field goals. Coach Dan Mullen went for it on fourth-and-goal on MSU’s second drive because he knew his team couldn’t beat Alabama with field goals. He wanted touchdowns. The Bulldogs came up short then and continued to come up short the rest of the game. It was the first game of the season that Mississippi State failed to reach paydirt, a shortcoming that can’t happen in the biggest game of the season
If you turned the game off after the first quarter, Mississippi State’s defense had surely earned itself an A. Alabama had the ball for just more than five minutes in the quarter, failed to convert a third down and only made it past midfield once (after recovering a MSU fumble). The Bulldogs forced the Crimson Tide to punt on their first drive, picked off Jake Coker on Alabama’s second drive, and then forced three more punts. Combine that with a hypothetical offense that could score and you might have a very different game. But that didn’t happen, and the Bulldogs couldn’t keep up their defensive production. After giving up 55 yards and a scoreboard goose egg in the first quarter, Mississippi State’s defense surrendered 324 yards and allowed 24 points in the final three quarters. They had started to bend, and when they broke, they did so in spectacular fashion. Each of Alabama’s three offensive touchdowns came on a play of 60 yards or more.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C+
Again, this grading would be much higher if not for a “but.” If you look at the Bulldogs’ special teams performance for all but one play of the day, it could easily warrant a B, if not a B+. Kicker Westin Graves knocked in field goals from 39 and 31 but missed a 50-yarder. Alabama didn’t return any of the three kickoffs, nor did it return five of the six MSU punts. But the one the Crimson Tide did return opened the floodgates. In the second quarter, Alabama’s Cyrus Jones caught a punt at the Alabama 31-yard line and took it 69 yards for the game’s first score. The Crimson Tide would get 21 points that quarter, all but shutting the door on Mississippi State. Was there a block in the back on the play? Potentially. But it wasn’t called, and the one slipup on special teams cost the Bulldogs dearly.
It would be hard to knock Mullen’s guts against Alabama. Had Mississippi State scored on the fourth-and-goal in the first quarter, he would have been lauded and the game would have drastically changed course. But it didn’t. And against the nation’s second-best run defense, Mullen had his quarterback take off 26 times for a grand total of 14 yards, though nine of those carriers were sacks. For a coach who was praising his quarterback’s ability as a pocket passer last week, Mullen didn’t seem to trust Prescott’s arm to get the job done by itself.
Saturday was a chance for Mississippi State to prove its might, and through the first quarter it showed it could stand toe-to-toe with mighty Alabama. Had the Bulldogs not taken a gamble on the second drive of the game, they could have been leading going into the second quarter. But that second quarter was a Mississippi State meltdown on all fronts, and by halftime, any talk of a win was all but silenced.