STARKVILLE, Miss. — Alabama came away with a dramatic 31-24 victory Saturday over Mississippi State after a back-and-forth battle that lasted through the fourth quarter. It took the No. 2 Crimson Tide until the final 25 seconds to put the Bulldogs away, quarterback Jalen Hurts connecting with freshman DeVonta Smith on a 26-yard touchdown pass.
The outcome seemed always to be in doubt as the teams went score for score throughout most of the game, which ended when Mississippi State’s last-second attempt at a Hail Mary failed, taking with it the home team’s hopes of adding to Saturday’s rash of upsets.
Depth was an issue for the Tide (10-0, 7-0 SEC) coming in with a depleted linebacking corps, and it proved to be a problem for the Alabama defense.
The unit struggled to stop the Mississippi State offense throughout, particularly on the ground, giving up 172 yards. That total was a season high, and came on the heels of LSU rushing for 151 yards just the week before.
It wasn’t the first time Alabama’s defense has faced this type of offense, but after seeing the first quarter end with the score 7-7, it was the first time the Tide didn’t hold the lead after the opening frame.
There were a lot of firsts in this game for the Crimson Tide, and not in a good way. Alabama was trailing in the fourth quarter, down 24-17 at one point, for the first time since last season’s College Football Playoff National Championship against Clemson.
For a team that has signed the No. 1 recruiting class three of the past four years (coming in second in 2016), the defense was sorely missing the injured players, including linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton.
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and running back Aeris Williams were able to have success running the ball right up the middle of the Alabama defense — rarely the case for opposing teams. Fitzgerald even saw success through the air, throwing for 158 yards after only averaging 162 entering Saturday.
The Alabama offense came through, though, carried by Hurts and receiver Calvin Ridley, who connected for 171 yards. Hurts paired that with 40 yards on the ground and one touchdown.
Junior running back Damien Harris went over the 100-yard rushing mark, another part of a team effort that finally put No. 16 Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3) away.
The victory keeps Alabama undefeated and in the playoff hunt, but it doesn’t make its next SEC game — the Nov. 25 Iron Bowl at Auburn, after a visit next Saturday from Mercer — any easier. The Tigers are coming off a convincing win against Georgia, and the winner of that final conference game will represent the West in the SEC championship game.
Auburn put up 40 points Saturday on a Georgia defense that had been giving up 11.6 per game.
The outcome was what Alabama wanted, but it didn’t happen in the way the Tide were hoping. If the defense doesn’t fix the issues that plagued it against Mississippi State, the future of the season could be on the line.