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No. 2 Alabama escapes Mississippi State upset bid
STARKVILLE, Miss. — In the midst of the deafening clang of cowbells inside the vault that is Davis Wade Stadium, No. 2 Alabama’s sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts calmly made the plays.
Hurts fired two big blows to No. 16 Mississippi State and its aggressive defense in a final drive that halted a potential upset that would shake the foundation of the College Football Playoff.
A 26-yard pass from Hurts to DeVonta Smith with 25 seconds left send the Crimson Tide home a 31-24 winner and most of the 61,344 fans home heartbroken.
“That was a great win for our team,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I think it was a great example of overcoming a lot of adversity. We knew this game would be hard.”
With top-ranked Georgia losing to Auburn earlier in the day, Alabama (10-0, 7-0 SEC) is poised to move back to No. 1 in the CFP rankings.
Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3) rushed for 172 yards, the most by a Dan Mullen-coached team versus Alabama. Aeris Williams had 22 carries for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bulldogs dominated time of possession in the game with 38:56 minutes of clock on their side. They also were 8-of-15 on third downs to Alabama’s 3-for-10 but couldn’t pull it out.
“We wanted to control the tempo in the game and I thought we were able to do that most of the night,” Mullen said. “We gave up too many explosive plays but they have some great players.”
The game was tied at 14 at the half thanks to two rushing touchdowns by each team. The Bulldogs struck first with Williams scoring from 11 yards out. Calvin Ridley’s 61-yard catch set up Hurts’ 1-yard run on the following possession for a 7-7 tie at the end of one quarter.
The teams traded blows again in the second as Williams scored again on a 5-yard plunge, but Alabama answered once again with a 1-yard touchdown by Josh Jacobs.
The Crimson Tide came out of the half with a quick score, getting the ball inside the 10-yard line before being held to a 30-yard field goal from Andy Pappanastos giving the Tide its first lead at 17-14.
It was Mississippi State with the answer this time, as the Bulldogs drove 69 yards on 13 plays and Nick Fitzgerald scored on a 2-yard run for a 21-17 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
Kicker Jace Christmann extended that lead on a 25-yard kick and the Bulldogs were on top 24-17 with 14 minutes left in the game.
Hurts led his team right down the field, converting a big fourth-down play and getting the ball inside the 15. That’s where Damien Harris scored from 14 yards away to tie the game at 24 with 9:49 remaining.
Pappanastos missed a 41-yard field goal off the left upright with just over two minutes left but the Crimson Tide forced a three-and-out and got the ball back. Hurts converted two straight big pass plays to get Alabama 57 yards down the field and win the game.
“(Hurts) definitely was poised. We’ve been in situations like this, like last year versus Clemson and other games,” Ridley said. “We practice against that type of stuff. We just made some great plays.”
The Crimson Tide rushed for 202 yards, with 120 coming in the fourth quarter. Hurts was 10 of 19 for 242 yards and a touchdown. Ridley led the way with 171 yards on five catches while Harris rushed for 93 yards on eight carries.
Mississippi State’s Mark McLaurin was the game-high tackler with 11 stops and had 1.5 tackles for loss from his safety post.
“We worked so hard during the week and we came out (Saturday) and played lights out,” McLaurin said. “The big plays and the end result wasn’t what we expected. I couldn’t thank those boys anymore. I wouldn’t rather go to war with anybody else.”
Alabama will head out of conference play next weekend to play Mercer at home before a potential top-5 showdown in two weeks against Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
The Bulldogs are set for a road contest at Arkansas next week and close the season at home in the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss.
NOTES: Mississippi State’s three rushing touchdowns were the most an offense has scored on a Nick Saban team at Alabama. ... It was the first time in 37 games that Alabama had not forced a turnover. ... Alabama has won 31 straight regular-season games dating to 2015.