Defense [A-] – This performance against Mississippi State proves that it’s a blessing to have a dominant defense that is going to step up and make plays when your offense is struggling. While Alabama’s offense sputtered around for most of the game, the defense was hitting hard, playing aggressive and dictating the tempo of the game as usual.
The cowbells in Starkville didn’t affect the defense that much at all. The Crimson Tide held the Bulldogs to 53 yards rushing (1.8 yards per carry) off 29 carries. Alabama held Mississippi State to just 197 yards of total offense and four third down conversions (4-15). The Bulldogs went for it on fourth down three times, but came away empty handed. The true mark of a talented defense is when it’s able to stop an opposing offense from scoring in the red area.
Mississippi State had the ball inside of Alabama’s 20-yard line five times in the game, but came with just seven points. The touchdown they got was on a fumble recovery in the endzone by offensive lineman Charles Siddoway. He received the gift off a botched run by Tyler Russell which led to the fumble. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix got his second interception of the season and outside of a personal foul facemask penalty, CJ Mosley was playing with reckless abandon on the field. He led the team with eight tackles and a forced fumble.
Offensive Line [C] – After not giving up a sack for much of this season, Alabama’s offensive line struggled with protecting AJ McCarron. Though he was only sacked once, Mississippi State did an incredible job rattling and getting pressure on him. The Crimson Tide had a difficult time getting the run game going because of the Bulldogs ability to move Alabama off the ball and create havoc in the backfield. Despite the Crimson Tide achieving 383 yards of offense, the majority of it came in the second half. Alabama had five penalties in the game and a few of them were charged to the offensive line for holding.
You have to Mississippi State’s defensive line a lot of credit. They become the third team that really challenged the Tide in the trenches.
Running Game [C-] – It doesn’t matter how talented you are or how many statistics you can put up, if you don’t hold onto the football you will not be successful. Both TJ Yeldon and Kenyan Drake are good backs, but good is the enemy of great. The only way they can become great backs is getting the concept of ball security down. Both backs combined have six lost fumbles this season. Like Kentucky, Alabama is very fortunate that Mississippi State doesn’t have much of an offense.
As far as numbers go, Yeldon had 24 carries for 160 yards (6.7 yards per carry). He eclipsed the 1000-yard rushing mark this season against Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs did keep him out of the endzone. Drake totaled four carries for 28 yards (7.0 yards per carry).
AJ McCarron [C] – After an amazing game passing the ball against LSU last week, many analysts were actually willing to put McCarron into the Heisman conversation. After his performance against Mississippi State, Alabama fans can only hope that voters have mercy and keep him in there. Let’s be honest, it’s not all McCarron’s fault. He didn’t have a really clean pocket to work through against the Bulldogs. The offensive line had its hands full against Mississippi State’s D-Line and the defense line did a fabulous job of getting to McCarron. The Bulldogs forced him to pass the ball before he was ready to. He had moments in the game where he was in rhythm and then moments when receivers would drop passes.
For the first time in 139 pass attempts, McCarron tossed an interception in the game and for the first time since the Texas A&M matchup (2012), McCarron tossed two interceptions in a ball game. Despite his numbers not being as sharp, McCarron got the job done. What makes a quarterback special is not when he has a perfect game, but when he faces adversity and has to rally the troops around him. McCarron did that in this game against Mississippi State. As far as statistics are concerned, McCarron went 18-32 (56.2 percent of passes completed) for 187 yards, two touchdown and two interceptions.
For Dan Mullen and Mississippi State, it’s the mindset of not holding your head down, but you can’t help it when your defense has played tremendous, yet you can’t score in the redzone. The Bulldogs forced four Crimson Tide turnovers, but only capitalized on one of them. The fan base and defense came to play for Mississippi, but the offense lagged behind.
As for Alabama, Nick Saban will truly get on his guys Monday at practice. The Crimson Tide escaped with a C game performance, but if they want to become champions that has to improve.