Admit it, you were seeing visions of Cam Newton in your head. In 2010, an undefeated and second-ranked Auburn team led by a large, mobile quarterback came into Bryant-Denny Stadium and fell behind 24-0 before coming back for a 28-27 win.
And on Saturday, an undefeated and top-ranked Mississippi State team led by a large, mobile quarterback came into Bryant-Denny Stadium and fell behind 19-0 and pulled within 19-13 with plenty of time to make the deja vu complete.
But this time was the other quarterback, Alabama’s Blake Sims, that made the plays necessary when it mattered the most. After seeing his lead cut into thirds, Sims converted three third downs – including pick ups of 3rd-and-8 and 3rd-and-10 with his legs – to guide the Tide on a 15-play, 76-yard drive that pushed Alabama’s lead to 25-13.
Mississippi State drove 54 yards to reach the Alabama 20 on the ensuing possession, but Dak Prescott was intercepted and that was basically that. Prescott tossed a four-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds to go, but it was a purely cosmetic score. Final score: Alabama 25, Mississippi State 20.
Prescott was intercepted a career-high three times on the day; all were in Alabama territory, and two were inside the red zone.
It was that kind of day for Mississippi State, where the Bulldogs made enough plays to prove they belonged on the field with Alabama in a 1 vs. 5 game (428-335 yardage advantage, 26-17 first downs) but not enough to ever be in position to win the game. For as much as the Bulldogs accomplished in outscoring Alabama 20-6 over the game’s final 35 minutes, they never possessed the ball with a chance to take the lead. There were too many turnovers, too many dropped passes and too many missed tackles to beat Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The key sequence occurred with 5:32 to go in the first half, as Alabama running back Derrick Henry lost the ball at his goal line and a Mississippi State defender recovered it, but the play was turned into a touchdown upon review, giving Alabama a 19-0 lead.
Prescott completed 27-of-48 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 22 times for 82 yards, but those three interceptions will cost him a shot at leaving New York with the Heisman Trophy (especially considering what Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon did to Nebraska today). Bowling ball running back Josh Robinson never really got rumbling, limited to 12 carries for 37 yards and a safety that opened the scoring for the Crimson Tide, though he did catch six passes for 69 yards.
Sims was the MVP for Alabama, continuing his string of excellent play in Tuscaloosa with 211 passing yards and a touchdown and four key rushes for 18 yards. T.J. Yeldon rushed 16 times for 72 yards and a touchdown, and Amari Cooper nabbed eight passes for 88 yards and a score.
In the big picture, Alabama’s situation is simple. The Tide will leap into the College Football Playoff’s top four on Tuesday night, and can win the SEC West with a defeat of Auburn two weeks from today.
Mississippi State’s situation is much murkier. With a non-conference schedule consisting of UAB, Southern Miss, South Alabama and Tennessee-Martin and SEC East cross-over opponents of Vanderbilt and Kentucky, the Bulldogs’ entire resume lies on the strength of the SEC West. Their best win is a 38-20 defeat of 8-2 Auburn, which admittedly looks great as of this writing, but the Bulldogs are essentially yoked to the Tigers. If Auburn finishes 10-2, Mississippi State will be fine – especially considering that 10th win would be over Alabama, presumably giving Mississippi State the SEC West title – but what if Auburn finishes 8-4? And what of LSU and Texas A&M? Both stand at 7-3 as of this writing with toss-up games ahead of them tonight and a date in College Station waiting on Thanksgiving night.
One thing is certain for Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs: Mississippi State fell from an undisputed No. 1 to the unenviable position of the most-contested one-loss team in rough-and-tumble race to the top four.