TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — So it turns out the University of Alabama offense is mortal after all.
For the first time this season, it didn’t top 500 total yards. It failed to score more than 24 points, and managed just a field goal in the second half.
The No. 1 Crimson Tide was even down to third-string quarterback, redshirt freshman Mac Jones, yet still easily defeated No. 16 Mississippi State, 24-0.
Perhaps easily isn’t the correct word, but Alabama (10-0, 7-0) absolutely demolished the visiting team in the first quarter and then the defense did the rest. The Bulldogs managed just 44 rushing yards, were 1-for-13 on third downs and they reached the red zone only once.
“I think that in this day and age, you’re not going to get judged on whether you win, you’re going to be judged on how you win,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I never thought that I would be in the position to say that you get style points, but that is the way it is and the way our system is.
“We knew this was going to be a tough game.”
Physically it turned out to be, so much so that things started to get chippy and some players had a few not-so-nice things to say to one another before heading to their respective locker rooms.
Alabama players also took exception to the low hits that sophomore Tua Tagovailoa took, especially when taking four sacks. Coming in the offensive line had only given up six all season.
“Kudos to the defense and the way they played,” said Saban, as Alabama notched its 24thstraight home win to tie the program record (1971-74).
Coming in, Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was second in league rushing, averaging 104.9 yards per game, and fifth in total offense with 261.4. He finished with minus-23 rushing yards due to five sacks and his longest pass completion was for just 23 yards.
“We wanted to make him uncomfortable,” said sophomore linebacker Dylan Moses, as Alabama was able to sustain a pass rush without having to blitz much.
Granted, a penalty for a phantom block to the back helped stall the Bulldogs’ red-zone possession just before halftime, but it was the only time Mississippi State (6-4, 2-4 SEC) had a drive go more than six plays.
Alabama's defense hasn’t given up a point in 10 quarters, as the last points scored by an opponent were on a pick-six at Tennessee. It’s also the first back-to-back shutouts since 2012, when the Crimson Tide notched consecutive 49-0 victories over Western Carolina and Auburn.
Alabama won 29-0 at LSU last week, from which Saban said the usual “emotional hangover” from facing the then-No. 3 Tigers might have contributed to the offensive struggles at cold Bryant-Denny Stadium.
But so did pair of injuries. Alabama never quite looked the same after sophomore guard Deonte Brown suffered a turf-toe injury during the second quarter.
“They brought some new stuff, things on he weak side, opposite of us, and on the front side to me, that we have to pick up better,” sophomore right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. said. “It’s just communication.”
Tagovailoa (knee) also left in the third quarter and with Jalen Hurts (knee) unavailable Jones handled the fourth quarter. Alabama scored on a 49-yard field goal and had a long 10-play drive that help killed the clock.
“They kind of caught on to what we were doing,” said junior running Josh Jacobs, who finished with 136 all-purpose yards including 97 rushing. “Some plays they were calling our plays out.”
In contrast, Alabama had touchdown drives of nine and 13 plays when it went 73 yards and 83 on its first two possessions. Senior running back Damien Harris and Jacobs capped them with 1-yard plunges for the early 14-0 lead.
At one point of the second quarter the Crimson Tide had a total-yards advantage of 186 to 13. It then extended the lead off a Mississippi State gift, when Deddrick Thomas fumbled a punt return at freshman Ale Kaho recovered at the Bulldogs’ 27.
Three plays later Jacobs took a simple swing pass from Tagovailoa for a 14-yard touchdown.
“At that point we dominated them, I felt like,” Wills said.
It just didn’t last, which was something usual for the Crimson Tide even if Mississippi State’s defense had previously yielded only nine touchdowns this season.
“I feel like we didn’t execute and perform the way we want during the second half,” junior tight end Irv Smith Jr., who made a 25-yard reception to set up Alabama’s second touchdown. “They’re probably the most physical team we faced. They’re a good defense.”