Alabama defense makes crucial stops in close win over Mississippi StateBy Matthew Speakman | 11/11/2017 11:13pm
Alabama avoided the upset with a 31-24 win over Mississippi State.
One stop. That was the defining moment for Alabama’s defense.
After kicker Andy Pappanastos’ kick hit the upright with just over two minutes left, Mississippi State took over with a chance to take the lead. Alabama’s defense answered the call, and forced its first three-and-out all game.
That one stop finally got Alabama off of the field, and would lead to the game-winning drive by Alabama’s offense.
“We’re all about finishing this year,” cornerback Anthony Averett said. “This game was just like last year, what happened with Clemson. This game kind of took a lot, but we have to finish. We finished today.”
For most of No. 2 Alabama’s 31-24 win over No. 16 Mississippi State, the defense was gassed. Alabama played 38 minutes and 56 seconds of defense. The Bulldogs ran 73 plays against a unit that is missing four linebackers due to injury.
Alabama was tired, but its defense shut down Mississippi State when it desperately needed to. The Bulldogs had a chance to take the lead twice after Alabama. Those two drives only netted 19 yards and ended in two punts. It was key in keeping Alabama undefeated.
“The game was on the line,” head coach Nick Saban said. “...For us to come right back after we tied the game up and get a stop was critical.”
Still, it was a game of lessons for Alabama on defense.
The team struggled to get off of the field on third down. Alabama allowed Mississippi State to convert on eight of its 15 third downs. When a team is missing so many players due to injury, that can wear a defense down as a game goes on.
“There were a lot of plays that should’ve never happened,” linebacker Rashaan Evans said. “Those are just on us to be honest with you. It was a lot of things that we did wrong. So, for us, all we can do right now is go back to the drawing board.”
The Crimson Tide had a tough time dealing with Mississippi State’s running game, especially early on. The established run game allowed the Bulldogs to control the tempo.
Mississippi State rushed for 152 yards. Running back Aeris Williams had 97 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald finished with 67 yards and a score. It was the first time Alabama allowed three rushing touchdowns in a game under head coach Nick Saban.
“We did not do a great job of stopping the run,” Saban said. “You have to give Mississippi State a lot of credit. They had a good plan. They have a good running game. Their quarterback is really a handful to go with the running game.”
Missing from Alabama’s lineup were two crucial inside linebackers. Shaun Dion Hamilton and Mack Wilson both are out for multiple games with injuries. They were replaced in the lineup by Keith Holcombe and Dylan Moses.
Both players had to fill important roles, and Evans was impressed with how they stepped up.
“They played a great game,” Evans said. “Just the fact that they came in on a big game like this and did what they did, especially filling in for Shaun Dion [Hamilton]. I felt like they did a pretty good job.
Despite all of the adversity and struggles to stop the run, Alabama’s defense got crucial stops in the fourth quarter. It flipped the switch and forced Mississippi State’s momentum to come to a grinding halt.
Alabama’s leaders never doubted that the Crimson Tide could shut down Mississippi State. Moving forward, the defense will have to continue to show up on big stages.
“We got down at first, but we just kept talking- especially our leaders, our senior leaders,” Averett said. “Everybody was like ‘Keep your head up; it’s a long game.’”