STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI Sports/Alabama Athletics) – No. 1 Alabama (10-0 overall; 7-0 in the SEC) avoided an upset against Mississippi State (4-6 overall; 1-5 SEC), winning 20-7 Saturday night before a crowd of 57,211, the fourth-largest crowd in the history of Davis-Wade Stadium at Scott Field.
MSU’s defense holds Alabama to just 10 first-half points and intercepts quarter AJ McCarron twice in the game. A final drive with five minutes remaining fell short for the Bulldogs who had to turn to freshman quarterback Damian Williams late in the game with both sophomore Dak Prescott and senior Tyler Russell hurt.
McCarron broke the Crimson Tide career total offense record in the win, surpassing John Parker Wilson (8,099 yards from 2005-08) for the most yards of total offense in a career, finishing the game with 199 yards (187 passing; 12 rushing) bringing his career total to 8,146. Running back T.J. Yeldon also had a big night, rushing for a career-best 159 yards.
The Tide survived an uncharacteristically uneven performance in taking the victory, largely due to a solid effort by the Alabama defense. The Tide stop troops limited State to 197 total yards on the night while forcing seven punts and five three-and-outs. Alabama prevailed despite losing the turnover margin by four to one, losing two fumbles and two interceptions while gaining one interception.
Alabama won the pregame coin toss and chose to receive the opening kickoff. The kickoff sailed out of the end zone for a touchback and the Tide started its first possession at its own 25. On first down, McCarron passed to Amari Cooper on a crossing pattern for 19 yards to the Alabama 44. T.J. Yeldon then carried for two yards up the middle. From the Tide 46 on second-and-eight, McCarron passed to Cooper on a wide receiver bubble screen and Cooper followed blocking for nine yards and a first down at the State 45. Yeldon took a handoff on a delay on first down and gained one yard. One second-and-nine, Yeldon gained a yard off left tackle to set up third-and-eight at the State 43. From the shotgun formation, McCarron benefited from a good blitz pickup block by Yeldon to throw complete to Christion Jones on a crossing pattern. Jones eluded a tackler to gain the first down by a foot, a nine-yard gain to the State 34.
McCarron was sacked for a seven-yard loss on first down to set up a second-and-17 at the State 41. From the shotgun, McCarron scrambled for a gain of 10 yards to the State 31. On third-and-seven, McCarron passed to Yeldon on a delayed screen pass and Yeldon eluded a tackler for a six-yard gain to the State 25. On fourth down and one yard to go, Yeldon carried over right guard for three yards and a first down at the State 23. McCarron’s pass for Cooper on first down was incomplete. On second down, Yeldon took a handoff at left guard and bulled over a tackler for a gain of seven yards to the State 16. Facing third-and-three, McCarron’s play-action pass on a roll out for DeAndrew White was incomplete at the goal line. That set up a 33-yard field goal attempt by Cade Foster that was good to give Alabama a 3-0 lead with 7:59 left in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Alabama punter Mandell’s career-long 63-yard punt rolled out of bounds at the State two-yard line with 14:00 left in the second quarter. That flipped field position in the Tide’s favor when an exchange of punts led to Alabama starting a possession at State’s 43-yard line. But the Tide offense could not capitalize and Mandell’s next punt from the State 41 sailed into the end zone with 11:08 left in the second quarter, setting up the Bulldogs at their own 20-yard line.
From there, State mounted an impressive drive, starting with Perkins running for six yards on the first play before Russell passed to Malcolm Johnson for 20 yards to the State 46. Three plays later, Russell and Johnson connected again, this time for 22 yards on a third-and-five play from the Tide 49 to the Tide 27. Perkins ran for five and the play was bolstered by an 11-yard face mask personal foul on Mosley that set up State at the Tide 11. After Russell passed to Lewis for seven yards on first down, Alabama was flagged for offsides to set up second-and-one at the Tide two-yard line. Perkins was stopped for no gain by Tide defensive End A’Shawn Robinson on a run. On third down a pass was incomplete and State was flagged for an ineligible man downfield. That set up third-and-six at the Tide seven with 5:43 left in the second quarter. After State called timeout, Russell’s pass to Lewis in the end zone was incomplete. Placekicker Evan Sobiesk entered to try a 23-yard field goal. His kick was wide to the right and State had squandered a 10-play, 73-yard drive that consumed 5:38.
With 5:30 left in the first half, Alabama started the ensuing possession at its 20 following the missed field goal. Yeldon rushed for nine yards on first down. Yeldon gained four and a first down on the next play at the Tide 33. McCarron’s pass to Christion Jones on a sideline streak pattern was incomplete, barely out of bounds around the State 45 to set up second-and-10. McCarron’s pass for Kenny Bell was almost intercepted by State cornerback Jamerson Love at the Tide 41 but Love could not hold on. Facing third-and-10 at the Tide 33, Alabama called timeout with 4:04 remaining.
McCarron could not find an open receiver on the third down play, eventually passing to Christion Jones at the State 40. But the ball bounced off Jones and was intercepted by State cornerback Taveze Calhoun, who stepped out of bounds there with 3:51 left in the half. After an incomplete pass and a run by Josh Robinson failed to gain, Russell’s third-down pass to Johnson was incomplete and State was forced to punt with 3:00 left in the half.
Alabama took possession at its own 22 when Swedenburg’s punt was downed with 2:49 remaining. On the first play, Yeldon took a handoff and cut through a hole past left tackle and raced 50 yards down the left sideline before State defensive back Nickoe Whitley brought him down at the State 28. After a pass to Jones lost four yards, Yeldon gained 15 yards on a run at left guard to the State 17. Yeldon was stopped for a loss of one on first down; McCarron’s pass was incomplete after a long delay as receivers were covered. That set up third-and-11 at the State 18 with 30 seconds left in the half.
McCarron eluded pressure on third down and passed to tight end Brian Vogler at the State three-yard line. Vogler eluded a tackler and dove into the end zone for a touchdown with 20 seconds left in the half. Foster’s conversion kick was good and Alabama had a 10-0 lead after the 78-yard drive that took six plays and 2:29 of game clock.
After a Yeldon fumble at the Tide 46 with 12:53 left in the third quarter, State drove 46 yards in five plays to a touchdown. Russell started the drive with a 17-yard pass to Johnson to the Tide 29. Two plays later, Russell passed to Lewis for seven yards to the Alabama 22. A Russell pass to De’Runnya Wilson gained 13 to the Tide nine before Russell gained six yards on a keeper before fumbling at the Tide three-yard line. The ball rolled into the end zone amid a crowd of players and State right tackle Charles Siddoway recovered the fumble for a Bulldog touchdown with 10:11 left in the third quarter. Evan Sobiesk’s extra-point kick was good and Alabama’s lead was cut to 10-7.
Alabama’s offense responded quickly and emphatically, driving 77 yards in nine plays to restore the 10-point lead. McCarron started the drive with a pass to Norwood for 12 yards to the Tide 35. After an incomplete pass on first down, Yeldon ran for two to the Alabama 37. On third and eight at the Tide 37, McCarron passed to Jones on a middle post for 26 yards to the State 37. A pass to DeAndrew White gained 13 yards to the State 24, and then McCarron passed to Cooper, who made a tight rope catch along the sideline for seven yards to the Bulldog 17.
Yeldon then carried over right guard for four yards to the State 13 and a first down. Yeldon then gained two more at the right side to the State 11 with 6:10 left in the third quarter before Norwood made a spinning grab over a defender for a catch in the end zone on a fade route from McCarron for the touchdown. Foster’s kick gave the Tide a 17-7 lead with 5:46 left in the third period. The touchdown pass marked the 70th scoring toss of McCarron’s record-setting Alabama career.
The Bulldogs put together an impressive drive on the ensuing possession, marching into Alabama territory on a drive keyed by an 11-yard Russell pass to Johnson and a 14-yard connection from Russell to Jameon Lewis that reached the Tide 32. But the threat was snuffed out when Russell’s pass from the 32 into the Tide end zone was intercepted by safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix returned the theft from deep in the end zone to the Tide 16. An illegal block on the return moved the Tide back to their eight to start the next possession with 2:05 left in the third quarter.
A McCarron pass to tight end O.J. Howard started the next drive, gaining 21 yards to the Tide 29 and giving McCarron the Alabama career record for total offense. On the next play, McCarron hit White for 15 more to the Alabama 44. Yeldon took charge on the next play, taking a handoff around right tackle for 25 yards to the State 31. After a short pass to Christion Jones gained one, the third period came to a close.
The fourth period opened with a pass to Kenny Bell in the end zone that was incomplete, but McCarron and Cooper connected on a 10-yard sideline pass for a first down at the State 20. After a false start penalty, the Tide faced second-and-15 at the State 25. Yeldon was trapped for a loss of one to set up second-and-16 at the State 26. On a passing play, McCarron had plenty of protection but could not find an open receiver so he tucked and ran for a gain of nine to set up third-and-seven at the State 17. McCarron’s pass for Norwood was incomplete as he threw high to avoid coverage. That set up a 35-yard field goal attempt by Foster with 12:22 left. The kick was good and Alabama had extended its lead to 20-7 with 12:15 remaining.
An Adrian Hubbard sack of Russell capped a three-and-out of the State offense by the Tide defense on the next series. Alabama took over at its 47-yard line after a 33-yard punt with 10:39 remaining. McCarron’s second interception of the night ended a promising drive. Taveze Calhoun’s second theft of the game was returned 53 yards from the State nine-yard line to the Tide 38. A 15-yard personal foul on a face masking penalty on Alabama turned a third-down play into a first down at the Tide 19. But the threat led to nothing as the Tide defense forced two running plays to lose yardage before an incompletion and a drop of quarterback Damian Williams on a fourth down play at the Tide 22 with 6:47 left in the fourth period.
But the Tide gave the ball right back to the Bulldogs as Kenyan Drake fumbled during a one-yard run at the Tide 23. State linebacker Bernardrick McKinney recovered at the Tide 24 with 6:38 left. Three plays gained two yards before a fourth-and-eight play resulted in an incompletion and the Tide took over on downs at the Tide 22 with 5:16 left in the fourth period.
Yeldon carried the ball five straight times during the next possession, picking up a total of 13 yards before Mandell punted the ball away with 2:55 left in the game.
Mississippi State started its final possession on the its own three-yard line and gained just two yards, turning the ball over on downs before McCarron took a knee twice to run out the clock.