By JOEL COLEMAN
Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott has set record after record in his Bulldog career. Saturday against Alabama, he set what he said might be a new personal best. He got hit more times than he’s ever been hit before.
No. 2 Alabama sacked Prescott nine times and found a handful of big plays to rout No. 17 Mississippi State 31-6 in front of 62,435 fans, the second-largest crowd in Davis Wade Stadium history.
“We didn’t do a good job of protecting the quarterback,” MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. “One of the things we talked about needing to do was protecting the quarterback coming into this game and be able to throw the football. We still threw for 300 yards, but (the sacks) were the plays you can’t have and really hurt.”
Prescott passed for 300 yards and ran for 14, but dodged the Alabama pass rush all game long. Jonathan Allen led the Crimson Tide defensive attack, sacking Prescott three times.
“We thought the one thing that might be in our favor in this game was our defensive line against their offensive line,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “We did most of it with four guys rushing. Every time we rushed more than four and played man-to-man, (Prescott) got rid of the ball and he made a couple of big plays. They all did a good job of pushing the pocket. I think that was a real key to the game.”
Prescott agreed that the Alabama pressure had the Bulldogs climbing uphill.
“It just put us behind the chains, changed the play calling because we were behind the chains trying to catch up at that point,” Prescott said.
Mississippi State’s defense held its own early. Before allowing Alabama running back and Heisman Trophy contender Derrick Henry to rack up 204 yards with two touchdowns, the Bulldogs were right in the game.
MSU (7-3, 3-3) limited the Crimson Tide (9-1, 6-1) to just 34 total yards in the first quarter, holding Henry to just 13 yards on the ground in the opening period.
Things changed in a hurry in the second quarter. With a little over 10 minutes to play until halftime, Alabama’s Cyrus Jones returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown to put the Crimson Tide up 7-0. The score was the first in a barrage of big plays that turned a defensive slugfest into a laugher.
“We played great defense,” Mullen said. “I thought we played fantastic defense for a good portion of the night.
“But you can’t play great defense 80 percent of the time. It has got to be 100 percent of the time. Their big plays killed us all night long.”
Later in the second quarter, Alabama quarterback Jake Coker hit Calvin Ridley for a 60-yard touchdown pass and a 14-0 lead.
Mississippi State cut into that advantage with a field goal from Westin Graves on its ensuing possession, but Henry answered with a 74-yard touchdown run a minute later to put the Crimson Tide up 21-3 at the half.
“Kind of a weird game in that every touchdown was a big play,” Saban said.
The trend continued in the second half. The teams traded field goals in the third quarter as Alabama took a 24-6 lead into the final period, then with 7:53 to play, Henry broke loose again on a 64-yard scoring scamper.
The final Alabama score was the first time Mississippi State had allowed a fourth-quarter touchdown all season. Entering the game, Mississippi State was the only FBS school to have not allowed an opponent past the goal line in the fourth quarter.
MSU had its share of chances to get into the end zone as well. Three times the Bulldogs drove into the red zone, but could never punch it in.
Mississippi State’s best chance for a touchdown came with things still scoreless in the first quarter when the Bulldogs drove all the way to the Crimson Tide 1-yard line. Facing a 4th down, Mullen elected to go for six points rather than settle for the field goal, but Prescott was stopped shy forcing a turnover on downs.
MSU’s other two trips inside the Alabama 20-yard line resulted in the two field goals by Graves.
“As far as moving the ball and getting to the red zone, we did pretty good,” Mississippi State receiver Fred Ross said. “It was once we got there we stalled, and against a great team like Alabama, that can’t happen.”
With the loss, the Bulldogs are officially eliminated from contention in the Southeastern Conference Western Division.
Mississippi State will now battle to improve its postseason bowl destination over the course of the regular season’s final two games, beginning next weekend at Arkansas.