Motivated Alabama defense stifles Mississippi State

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Motivated Alabama defense stifles Mississippi State

CW / Joe Will Field

CW / Joe Will Field

CW / Joe Will Field

CW / Joe Will Field

James Ogletree, Sports Editor

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STARKVILLE — One week after one of its worst games of the Nick Saban era, Alabama’s defense played a complete game at Mississippi State, allowing just one scoring drive in a 38-7 win.

That one drive — Mississippi State’s first full drive of the game — included a 27-yard draw play by quarterback Tommy Stevens. The other seven plays on the drive were all by running back Kylin Hill, the SEC’s leading rusher. He had a 1-yard rushing touchdown to get the Bulldogs on the board.

“I feel like that first drive we’re kind of a little slow sometimes,” junior safety Xavier McKinney said. “We gotta kinda get going a little bit. So I feel like we need to just do a better job of coming out there with that intensity and being ready to actually play.”

The Crimson Tide actually did get a stop on that drive, with senior defensive lineman Raekwon Davis sacking Stevens on third-and-8. But Davis was penalized 15 yards for grabbing Stevens’ facemask and the Bulldogs capitalized.

Alabama’s defense extended another Mississippi State drive late in the second quarter when McKinney was flagged for roughing the passer on third-and-8. Stevens had thrown an incomplete pass but the penalty gave the Bulldogs first-and-10.

That penalty didn’t cost the Crimson Tide, as it still forced a punt, but Saban wasn’t pleased.

“We had some poor judgments and poor decisions and some penalties, which created some negative situations we had to overcome,” Saban said. 

The touchdown came on Mississippi State’s second possession, which was its first full drive. Its opening possession lasted only one play: a Stevens interception thrown directly to freshman inside linebacker Shane Lee. It was Lee’s first career interception.

“I saw [Lee] got tackled by the QB. I was kinda on him for that because he should’ve scored,” McKinney said with a laugh. “But that was a big play in the game.”

Lee had two other tackles near the line of scrimmage early on. On a third-and-11 scramble by Stevens, Lee was speedy enough to prevent the quarterback from getting to the edge and forced an incompletion. 

The freshman linebacker led the team with 10 total tackles, a new career high.

After MSU’s touchdown, Alabama buckled down, allowing just 27 yards over the Bulldogs’ next four drives.

“I thought we played really well on defense. I thought we played with a lot of discipline. Everybody sorta took who they were supposed to,” Saban said. “… [We] controlled the line of scrimmage a little bit better. I thought we tackled better in the game today.”

Saban’s only issue with the defense was allowing a few explosive runs, mostly by Stevens. The quarterback had a 27-yard scramble on MSU’s touchdown drive. He ran for 46 yards on the first play of the second half and added carries of 12 and 17 yards later in the half.

After allowing 393 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air last week against LSU, the Crimson Tide allowed just 82 passing yards on 21 attempts by Stevens — the fewest it has given up since defeating Mercer in November 2017.

“We emphasized it all week: We wanted to come out and put on a dominant performance,” senior outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings said. “… We wanted to put [last week] to rest and come out and re-establish the Bama identity.”

 

Injury update:

  • Davis briefly left the game with an injury after the sack and facemask penalty, but he returned later in the drive. Right before halftime, though, he was carted off the field with a different injury and was not putting any weight on his right foot. Saban said he had a sprained ankle.
  • Freshman nose tackle D.J. Dale also left the game and did not return. Saban called Dale’s injury a twisted knee.