Joe Moorhead received a championship performance from his defense Saturday afternoon, but unfortunately for the Mississippi State head football coach the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide responded in kind.
The gritty 18th-ranked Bulldogs held the high-scoring Alabama offense to season lows in points and yards, but the Crimson Tide defense produced an even more impressive showing in a 24-0 victory over Mississippi State.
Playing in chilly conditions that had fans wrapped in layers of clothes at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Mississippi State cooled Alabama quarterback and Heisman Trophy frontrunner Tua Tagovailoa.
Instead of another surgical operation that eviscerates opponents in less than a half, Tagovailoa struggled with his accuracy, threw his second interception of the season and endured a steady Mississippi State pass rush that sacked him four times.
“We changed the game plan up a little bit, but the main thing was executing on the stretch runs,” Mississippi State sophomore linebacker Willie Gay Jr. said. “We knew we had to adjust to that and make stops and we did. We started winning on first down and that led to a good third down and so on.”
Behind more of a run-first approach, Alabama built a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and added another touchdown in the second quarter for a 21-0 halftime lead.
However, in the second half the Bulldogs held the Crimson Tide in check and allowed just a 49-yard field goal by Joseph Bulovas in the fourth quarter.
In the waning seconds of the game, Mississippi State even held Alabama on a fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard line.
“Defensively we continue to play well, we continue to fight our tails off,” Moorhead said. “I think we held them under 350 yards and I was most proud of them bowing their backs on that last drive and keeping them out of the end zone.
“That’s the type of pride and physicality that we played with defensively, and certainly it gave ourselves an opportunity.”
After throwing his first interception of the season last week at LSU, Tagovailoa had another miscue in the third quarter against Mississippi State.
On third-and-19, Tagovailoa misfired on a crossing pattern and the ball fell into the eager arms of Gay Jr.
“I showed like I was blitzing and I dropped back in coverage and he just threw it right to me,” Gay Jr. said. “I didn’t know what to do when I caught it. I was kind of surprised. When I caught it, I was like ‘yeah I gave him his second interception.’
“We know we started off slow and gave up a lot of plays in the run game. We knew we had to bounce back the second half and that’s exactly what we did.”