State had main upset ingredient, but not all
STARKVILLE — Mississippi State, a whopping 26-point underdog to top-ranked Alabama, achieved the most necessary ingredient for a monumental upset.
The Bulldogs won the turnover battle 4-1. To win against such huge odds, you have to be plus-2 or more, and State was plus-3.
The other ingredients weren’t there. You can’t waste scoring opportunities, especially against a team that thrives with its defense such as Bama. State did just that.Trailing the Crimson Tide 3-0 late with just over five minutes left in the half, State had the ball second down and one yard to go at the Bama 2.
You have to score a touchdown there. You just have to. But Bama stopped a run for no gain to make it third and one. And then, running out of the shotgun, Tyler Russell threw incomplete, which was bad enough, but State was called for ineligible receiver down field, which was worse.
Given a choice of State having fourth and one or third and six, Nick Saban chose the latter. Russell threw incomplete again. Then, making matters all the worse State missed the chip shot field goal and got nothing. Zilch. Nada.
The Bulldogs had a chance to seize momentum and instead handed it right back to Bama, which requires so little help. Naturally, Bama scored just before half to go into the dressing room up 10-0.
The third ingredient for a huge upset is to make big plays in the kicking game. State failed there, as well. Besides the missed field goal, State lost the punting game, thus field position.
Let’s put that another way. Alabama punter Cody Mandell won the punting game, decisively. Not that State was bad; Mandell was special. He was like Ray Guy wearing white with Crimson numbers, booming four punts for a 55-yard average and flipping the field time after time.
Saban, a guy who rarely uses superlatives, gushed over Mandell. “Fantastic,” he said. And then: “fabulous.” Mandell was both. I was on the field for his last kick, a 61-yarder downed at the State 3-yard line. The ball looked like it might go into orbit.
Saban, although clearly not pleased with his team’s play, praised the Bulldogs.
“Their coaches had a good game plan and their team played really physical football,” he said. “We could not control the line of scrimmage the way we want to. We turned the ball over four times. We have to play better to be the kind of team we want to be. We have to prepare better and that’s on me.”
Here’s the bottom line: State dropped to 4-6 and now must win out against Arkansas at Little Rock and against Ole Miss at home on Thanksgiving night to become bowl eligible.
“We have to keep fighting,” Dan Mullen said. “We have another tough game against Arkansas next week and we have to find a way to bounce back and win that one and then get in a bowl game.”
Alabama, 10-0, will walk over Chattanooga before going against Auburn at Auburn in once of the most interesting Iron Bowls of recent years. The Tide won’t get style points for Saturday night’s victory, but they still have the steering wheel on the road to the national championship.
Despite Saban’s comments about not controlling the line of scrimmage, this must be reported: Bama out-rushed State 196-53 and out-gained the Bulldogs overall 383-197.
State’s previous low for total yardage this season was 333. Maybe that’s not dominant. Let’s call it the next best thing.
State played really hard. The Bulldogs did play physical football. Indeed, both teams will need lots of ice and whirlpool time this week.
But to beat even an imperfect Bama, you have to be perfect. State was not that.
“Give Alabama credit,” Mullen said. “They did the things you do as the No. 1 team in the country. Obviously they have set the bar and that’s the bar we are looking to get to. We are going to relentlessly continue to pursue that.”
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