On the road a week after a big win against LSU, No. 2 Alabama (9-1, 6-1 SEC) recorded more sacks in a single game than any other game coached by Nick Saban in a 24-6 victory at No. 17 Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3 SEC). Alabama’s defense recorded eight sacks of Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. Prescott had been sacked just three times all season before today.
Alabama’s victory was keyed by three big plays in the first half. Cyrus Jones returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Jake Coker completed a 60-yard pass to Calvin Ridley for another, and running back Derrick Henry found daylight for a 74-yard touchdown run as Alabama opened up a 21-3 lead in the first half. Henry continued his Heisman Trophy push with 204 rushing yards and a second touchdown by the time the game was done.
Red zone miscues were a problem for Mississippi State. In the first half, the Bulldogs were stuffed on a fourth and goal from the one-yard line, leaving the potential scoring drive with nothing to show for it on Mississippi State’s second possession of the game. The home team also had a missed field goal and a lost fumble in the first half at a time when Alabama was struggling to get anything going on offense. It was only a matter of time, it seemed, before Alabama would make Mississippi State pay for not taking advantage of a strong defensive effort.
Alabama will wrap up its home schedule next week against Charleston Southern. The next time they take the field for an SEC contest they could, hypothetically, have the SEC West crown clinched. Alabama would need LSU and Ole Miss to lose one more game to clinch the division. LSU and Ole Miss play each other next week, so one is guaranteed to lose and fall out of the hunt. If things beyond their control do not work out for Alabama this week and next, then Alabama will head into the Iron Bowl looking to take care of business themselves.
Mississippi State also has two games remaining, both in SEC play. Next week Mississippi State will visit Arkansas. The Bulldogs return home the following week for the annual Egg Bowl against Ole Miss.
Alabama has been in a bit of a battle with Mississippi State so far this afternoon, but the big plays have gone Alabama’s way in the first half. A 69-yard punt return for a touchdown by Cyrus Jones, a 60-yard touchdown catch by Calvin Ridley and a 74-run by Derrick Henry have given Alabama a 21-3 lead in an otherwise evenly played game.
Alabama has needed the big plays to come through as they have, because the Crimson Tide have struggled against the Bulldogs defense. Alabama was without a third-down conversion before the big pass from Jake Coker to Ridley on a third-and-five situation. Ridley had plenty of open field with Mississippi State not pressing on coverage, and he get a heck of a block heading downfield as well. Later in the quarter, Henry had his first big run of the day, and it counted in a big way. After being contained for the first few possessions, Henry found room to run 74-yards for a touchdown. That run set a new SEC record for most consecutive games with a rushing touchdown (15).
Mississippi State had a chance to get in the endzone in the first quarter, but a goal line stand by Alabama was not fooled by Mississippi State sending multiple players in motion before Dak Prescott attempted to push straight forward. Mississippi State also missed a 50-yard field goal try in the first half, but Westin Graves connecting on his second try of the half for the first points of the day for Mississippi State. Alabama’s defense has already sacked Prescott five times.
Alabama running back Kenyan Drake was taken to the locker room in the second quarter with an air cast around his right arm. A medical staff member of Alabama’s was seen on TV holding the arm level as Drake made his way to the locker room. Alabama head coach Nick Saban was also hurt after being on the receiving end of a player running out of bounds, but he survived with a minor scrape on his face.
A total of 17 of the nation’s top quarterbacks have been named a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Award Monday by the Davey O’Brien Foundation. One of a handful of individual awards tailored for quarterbacks, the Davey O’Brien Award is the nation’s oldest of its kind. This year’s semifinalists include some familiar names as well, including Michigan State’s Connor Cook, TCU’s Trevone Boykin and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. All three were named semifinalists last season (Boykin and Prescott would later be named finalists). It also includes a handful of passers from the Group of Five, including Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. and Navy’s Keenan Reynolds out of the American Athletic Conference and Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson (MAC) and Brandon Doughty of Western Kentucky (Conference USA).
Oregon’s Marcus Mariota took home the award last season, becoming the first Pac-12 player to win the award since UCLA’s Troy Aikman won the award in 1988. The Pac-12 has some good candidates on the list of semifinalists again this season as well.
2015 Davey O’Brien Award Semifinalists
- Trevone Boykin (TCU)
- Connor Cook (Michigan State)
- Brandon Doughty (Western Kentucky)
- Luke Falk (Washington State)
- Jared Goff (California)
- Kevin Hogan (Stanford)
- Matt Johnson (Bowling Green)
- Cody Kessler (USC)
- Paxton Lynch (Memphis)
- Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech)
- Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)
- Dak Prescott (Mississippi State)
- Keenan Reynolds (Navy)
- Josh Rosen (UCLA)
- Seth Russell (Baylor)
- Greg Ward Jr. (Houston)
- Deshaun Watson (Clemson)
The push for the College Football Playoff is not the only thing heating up in November. Award season is started to come closer and closer. On Monday, the Maxwell Football Club released its list of semifinalists for two of the top individual awards in college football, the Maxwell Award and the Chuck Bednarik Award. Every Power 5 conference is represented on the Maxwell Award semifinalist list with 2 from the ACC, 4 from the Big 12, 2 from the Big Ten, 4 from the Pac-12 and 2 from the SEC. The SEC led the power conferences with seven players named to the Chuck Bednarik Award semifinalists with four.
Last year’s winner for the two Maxwell Football Club awards were Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota (Maxwell Award) and Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright (Bednarik Award). A quarterback has won the Maxwell Award 13 times since 2000 and has included players like Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck. Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise gives the Irish a chance to move into sole possession of first place in the list of all-time winners by school. Notre Dame and Penn State each have seven Maxwell Award winners for the most of all-time. Navy, Ohio State and Texas each have four winners.
Penn State also has more Bednarik Award winners than any other school with four. LSU has a chance to come within one with linebacker Kendall Beckwith named a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award. Past winners of the Bednarik Award, first awarded in 1995, include Pat Fitzgerald, Charles Woodson, LaVar Arrington, Ndamukong Suh, Tyrann Mathieu, Manti Te’o and Aaron Donald.
The winners of the Maxwell Award and Bednarik Award will be announced on December 10, 2015 during ESPN’s college football awards show. Three finalists will be announced for each award prior to that on November 24. A formal presentation for the awards will be held during the Maxwell Football CLub’s annual awards gala in Atlantic City, New Jersey, currently scheduled for March 11, 2016 at the Tropicana Resort & Casino.
2015 Maxwell Award Semifinalists
- RB Devontae Booker, Utah
- QB Trevone Boykin, TCU
- WR Corey Coleman, Baylor
- QB Connor Cook, Michigan State
- RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State
- WR Josh Doctson, TCU
- QB Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky
- RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
- RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
- RB Royce Freeman, Oregon
- RB Derrick Henry, Alabama
- QB Cody Kessler, USC
- QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis
- QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
- RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
- QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
- RB C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame
- QB Keenan Reynolds, Navy
- QB Greg Ward Jr., Houston
- QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
2015 Chuck Bednarik Award Semifinalists
- LB Kendall Beckwith, LSU
- NT Andrew Billings, Baylor
- DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State
- DE Jonathan Bullard, Florida
- DE Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
- S Jeremy Cash, Duke
- LB Su’a Cravens, USC
- DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
- CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
- DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson
- CB Jourdan Lewis, Michigan
- LB Tyler Matakevich, Temple
- DE Carl Nassib, Penn State
- DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
- DE Emmanueal Ogbah, Oklahoma State
- LB Reggie Ragland, Alabama
- CB Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
- DL A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama
- LB Joe Schobert, Wisconsin
- LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
Last year’s bowl results seemed to crack the invincible shield of the SEC West. College football’s toughest division was 2-5 in bowl games, including Alabama’s loss to eventual national champion Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl semifinal of the College Football Playoff. LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Auburn all took losses as well, with Arkansas and Texas A&M scoring the only two wins for the vaunted division in postseason play. Suddenly the SEC critics came out in full force in an attempt to shred the SEC aura like a piece of tissue paper. How did the SEC West respond?
Alabama was the headliner in Week 1 with a decisive victory over Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide dominated the running game against the Badgers, who played their first game with Paul Chryst as the head coach. The coaching match-up was a complete mismatch, as was the match-up in the trenches. Alabama rolled up 238 rushing yards while holding the usually strong running Badgers to just 40 yards. Alabama seemed to solve its question at quarterback just fine by having Jacob Coker complete 15 of 21 pass attempts for 213 yards and a touchdown. Nick Saban always seems to have his quarterback situation under control, even when it is a significant unknown. We’ll see if that holds up, but this was a great way for the Crimson Tide to start the year after the way the last one ended.
Auburn showed off a new defense that looked good early on but had to hang on against Louisville in the other spotlight game for the SEC West. Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson showed plenty of room for improvement at quarterback, but they still hung on to secure a season-opening win against a team that could play one of the toughest defense sin the ACC in 2015. In Houston, Texas A&M showed off some good defensive improvement with a 38-17 victory over Arizona State (my preseason Pac-12 South favorite). That is three neutral site victories for the SEC West against power conference opponents from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC. Not too shabby for the overrated SEC West in Week 1. And I didn’t even mention Arkansas and their 48-13 victory over UTEP.
Blowout victories over FCS schools should rarely, if ever, receive praise in college football. Especially when that FBS team piling on the points is a top 20 team returning about as much experience and skill as it ever has. Ole Miss blasted Tennessee-Martin by a final score of 76-3 and they held back no punches. New starting quarterback Chad Kelly had 211 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns in his debut for the Rebels. Defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche even scored a touchdown reception in the second quarter, and this wasn’t some dink and dunk down by the goal line. It was a 31-yard play to put the Rebels up 34-0 minutes into the second quarter. No bonus points are awarded for a win over an FCS squad, but Ole Miss showed some glimpses of what to scout and look for from them this season. LSU’s season opener against McNeese State was canceled due to weather shortly after kickoff. Hey, the Tigers looked good for four minutes!
Mississippi State was in a tussle on the road at Southern Miss, but managed to outscore the Eagles 20-6 after halftime to pull away for the win despite replacing a ton of players. Dak Prescott passed for 237 yards and two touchdowns and led the Bulldogs on the ground with 72 rushing yards and another touchdown.
The SEC West will remain one of the top divisions in college football, no matter how much you might want to think otherwise. It will be what they do in the postseason that matters most though.