If your New Year’s resolutions this time 12 months ago included “make the last college football game I watch be the dictionary definition of a defensive struggle,” pat yourself on the back for achieving at least one of the goals you set.
With offense mostly a rumor, the defenses of both No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Michigan State came to the forefront again and again and again — and again for good measure — until a late big play from the Tide’s offense led to the only touchdown in the half and helped give the SEC champions a 10-0 lead after two quarters of play. The first seven drives of the game, four from MSU and three by UA, ended in punts, with none piercing the opposition’s 35-yard line let alone the red zone.
And then a true freshman sensation happened. Again.
With just over six minutes remaining in the half and just shy of midfield, Calvin Ridley got behind the Spartans’ secondary and glided his way underneath a beautifully-thrown Jake Coker bomb to set the Tide up at the one-yard line. Following an MSU penalty, Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, behind 600-plus pounds of backfield beef, plowed his way in from less than a yard out for the game’s lone touchdown.
On the Tide’s next offensive possession, a 41- yard Coker-to-O.J. Howard hookup led to a field goal with 1:25 left and the first-half margin.
Aside from that, though, the offensive fireworks weren’t even few and far between, they were just few.
The Spartans managed just 63 yards of total offense before a final drive pushed that first-half total to 124, and averaged minus-.7 — yes, negative-point-seven — yards per carry on their 13 rushing attempts, and punted on all eight possessions. The deepest they penetrated into Tide territory was the 12-yard line on their last possession of the half… but a poor decision by senior Connor Cook, who has struggled throughout, led to a goal-line interception that prevented at least a chip-shot field goal attempt at the end of the second.
Henry, thanks to an equally-stifling MSU run defense, didn’t exactly have his Heisman numbers on full display as the junior was limited to 34 yards on 12 carries. Henry did, though, become the first player in SEC history and the 19th FBS player ever to surpass 2,000 yards rushing in a single season.
Coker, the least-experienced of the two starting quarterbacks, went 16-of-20 passing for 177 yards as part of an offensive effort that netted the Tide 212 total yards. Cook, the second-winningest current FBS quarterback, was 9-of-18 for 133 yards and the one very costly pick.
The damage of that interception is amplified by the fact that the Tide will get the ball on offense to start the second half.