Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has only played in one fourth quarter all season long — last week in the team’s 29-0 win against LSU in Baton Rouge. Most of the time that has been by design as his team has had comfortable leads in just about every game they’ve played in.
That was definitely not the case on Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa as the Heisman Trophy front-runner took a helmet to the leg late in the third quarter and did not return for the final 15 minutes of a 24-0 win over No. 16 Mississippi State that moved the team one step closer to the College Football Playoff… even if it might have come at a cost.
The CBS broadcast said Tagovailoa’s quad “locked up” after the hit and that understandable from both the impact of a helmet above the knee and the fact that it was a little chilly down in T-Town as well. Nick Saban said after the game that he would be “fine” and was just “beat up” but the scare was enough to draw muffled murmurs throughout the crowd at Bryant Denny Stadium with plenty of worry about how healthy he might be for the Iron Bowl in two weeks.
The signal-caller wound up finishing the game 14-of-21 for 164 yards and a touchdown in a relative uneven performance before the hit that also saw him throw his second interception of the year and get sacked a career-high four times. Needless to say, the offensive line certainly had their issues with pass protection against one of the best front seven groups in the country.
Backup Mac Jones came into the game in the final quarter in relief (Jalen Hurts remains sidelined himself after a small operation a few weeks ago) and threw six passes for -1 yards while nursing that four score lead. Naturally the entrance of the backup QB led to plenty of emphasis on running the ball and Josh Jacobs finished with 97 yards and a score, followed closely by Damien Harris with 53 yards and a touchdown of his own.
Everything is relative playing a team as dominant as Alabama and if you’re Joe Moorhead, you have to be at least happy with the way the MSU defense played in limiting an explosive offense to well below their season averages and making a goal line stand in the final two minutes. Despite it very much being a game for three quarters (or so) though, the Bulldogs did allow three touchdowns after coming into the game with just nine allowed all season.
Offensively, there was not a ton to write home about for the visitors as they converted just one 3rd down conversion all game long. Nick Fitzgerald completed 11-of-1920passes but they went for only 125 yards on a rough outing for the dual-threat quarterback that saw him also take five sacks. Kylin Hill led the way on the ground with 47 yards — most of which came on a 38-yarder that was one of the few standout plays on that side of the ball.
Still, it wasn’t enough to make a dint in the now 10-0 Crimson Tide, who recorded back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1980. They remain on a collision course with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game down in Atlanta but first two more home games against The Citadel and Auburn. Mississippi State, meanwhile, still have a shot at eight (or more) wins this year with Arkansas and the Egg Bowl upcoming in November.