The Crimson Tide defense pitched a shutout in the final three quarters on Saturday in Starkville, Mississippi, to help aid in the 38-7 win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Alabama gave up a few long runs to Bulldogs quarterback Tommy Stevens and allowed 188 total yards to MSU’s No. 23-ranked rushing attack, but other than that it effectively limited the Bulldogs’ big plays. Although a 31-point win keeps Alabama’s hope of a postseason berth alive, the game was overshadowed with the injury to junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa late in the second quarter and injuries to three other starters. Junior running back Najee Harris had three first quarter touchdowns — two on the ground and one through the air from Tagovailoa — and finished with four total scores, a new career high and just one short of the school record.
The win was a much-needed bounce back from the defeat to LSU just one week prior, with multiple players saying they felt they had made a statement and re-established the “Bama identity.” The story of the day, though, was the junior quarterback’s injury.
On Mississippi State’s first offensive play, Alabama freshman linebacker Shane Lee dropped into zone coverage. Stevens threw the ball straight to Lee, who secured the catch to set up the Crimson Tide offense with a short field. It was Lee’s first interception in his Alabama career. His 10 tackles in the game were a career high and were the most of any player on either team.
Following the Lee interception, Alabama needed just one play to capitalize on the Mississippi State turnover. Lining up just outside the red zone, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian dialed up a wheel route for Harris out of the backfield that fooled the Bulldogs’ defense as he was left uncovered down the right sideline and walked in for the score. It was the second consecutive game with a touchdown reception for Harris.
On the first of Harris’ three touchdown runs, the junior ran behind the blocking of tight end Major Tennison and junior wide receiver Henry Ruggs III. Harris barreled over multiple defenders and stretched the ball out to the goal line to cap the opening five-play, 55-yard drive by Alabama. The Crimson Tide led 7-0 just 1:30 into the game.
Harris became the first player in program history to score three first-quarter touchdowns with his 5-yard touchdown run with just over three minutes left in the opening quarter. A key 12-yard pass on third-and-8 from Tagovailoa to junior wide receiver Jerry Jeudy gave Alabama a first down on the Bulldogs’ 13-yard line. Two plays later Harris made history with the touchdown run.
On top 28-7 late in the first quarter, the Crimson Tide offense kicked off its drive with a 19-yard completion to freshman tight end Jahleel Billingsley up to midfield. The pitch-and-catch was routine, but after the injury to redshirt junior Miller Forristall against Arkansas, Billingsley has moved up the depth chart and has been in position to earn more plays if his number is called. It was the freshman’s first catch of his Alabama career.
Alabama Statistical Leaders
Tua Tagovailoa 14-for-18 passing for 256 yards and two touchdowns.
Najee Harris 17 carries for 88 yards and three touchdowns.
Jerry Jeudy Seven catches for 114 yards.