TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — University of Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts spent Saturday’s fourth quarter on the sideline, following around offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, with his helmet off and carrying a football. That last part was his penalty for having a fumble in the game.
Meanwhile, exiting fans were making jokes about needing a CSI unit to investigate a crime scene at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen looked nothing short of stunned. Seven days after his team pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season over then-No. 4 Texas A&M, the Bulldogs were crushed by the Crimson Tide, 51-3.
“There’s a reason they’re No. 1 in the country,” a dejected Mullen said. “They play like it.”
Alabama was so dominating that its No. 1 ranking doesn’t do it justice. The Crimson Tide had 615 yards of total offense. Hurts threw for four touchdowns and ran in one. Wide receiver ArDarius Stewart made eight catches for 156 yards and three touchdowns.
For the second straight week, the defense didn’t yield a touchdown to a Southeastern Conference opponent. It was credited with 12 quarterback hurries, had eight tackles for a loss, broke up seven passes and created two turnovers.
The selection committee for the College Football Playoff ought to give Alabama a semifinal invitation now.
Even though there are three weeks to go before football’s version of the Final Four is set December 4, there are few scenarios remaining in which Alabama doesn’t receive a playoff invitation for the third straight year.
Most of them involve a Tide loss to Chattanooga, which plays in the Football Championship Series. Otherwise, it would need to have two setbacks.
With Auburn’s loss to Georgia, Alabama clinched the SEC West.
Even if it lost the Iron Bowl or the SEC Championship Game to whichever team represents the horrid SEC East, it would still have the best resume among the potential one-loss teams. Louisville, Michigan and Ohio State combined might have played as many ranked opponents as the reigning national champion by then.
Overall, Alabama is 10-0 and 7-0 in SEC play despite dealing with the extra attention of being No. 1 since the preseason polls were revealed. All five games away from Bryant-Denny Stadium were against ranked teams.
Alabama has also played every opponent at its best. It won at Ole Miss when it had quarterback Chad Kelly. It thumped Texas A&M with Trevor Knight. It faced Tennessee before running back Jalen Hurd’s defection and shut out LSU while facing a healthy Leonard Fournette.
“I was worried about a little relief syndrome after that game last week,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said, as the LSU hangover had been an issue in the past.
Not with this team.
When this version of the Crimson Tide is clicking, it’s college football’s equivalent of a death machine. Previously, a lot of Alabama wins could be compared to a slow strangulation by a snake. This year some seem to be equally quick and painful.
The defense is “hateful,” as Saban put it this past week, due to its swarming, punishing nature. The offense hasn’t been as consistent, but it’s frequently dynamic and difficult to stop.
The one remaining question mark coming into this contest was still the downfield passing game, so the primary goal, besides winning, was to get Hurts a confidence boost.
He had 333 yards in the first half alone, which was already a career high. Hurts finished 28-of-37 for 347 yards, with 100 rushing yards and five total touchdowns.
“Jalen had a really good day today,” Saban said.
It was also a reminder that even though we’re midway though November, the true freshman is still on an upswing. Moreover, a potential semifinal game is still seven Saturdays away, giving him a lot of time to continue improving.
For example, some of the things that will be stressed over the next few days:
- Drives stalled in the red zone.
- Hurts missed a wide-open Calvin Ridley.
- His interception, which wasn’t completely his fault. Stewart was supposed to run a shallower route but got cut off by the defender. Nevertheless, after having just one pass picked off during his first five games, he’s now had at least one in each of the last five games.
- The fumble.
Thus, the carrying the ball around on the sideline after Cooper Bateman was inserted with 2:29 remaining in the third quarter.
But Hurts won’t be alone in that respect. Stewart had a dropped pass. Offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher told reporters he missed a couple of assignments. Alabama’s defense missed opportunities and turnovers, and the team felt it gave Mississippi State some golden chances to score in the first half.
The Bulldogs started a possession at the Alabama 38 (interception return), another at the 45 (kick return) and, like LSU last week, completed an early 41-yard pass.
None of those led to points, which was why Mississippi State’s biggest highlight was Fred Ross’ surpassing Chad Bumphis to become Mississippi State’s all-time leading receiver.
Otherwise, the game was like watching someone play whack-a-mole with a sledgehammer. Mississippi State stuck its head up, and the Crimson Tide came crashing down on the whole table.
“We’re hungry, man,” senior linebacker Reuben Foster said. “Everyone’s hungry, but at the same time we’re coming together as a team and playing lights out. We’re ball hogs. See ball, get ball. First one to the ball [wins].”
No other team can compare to that, not even the others touted as being playoff favorites. They don’t have the same level of talent or the same strength of schedule, and just about all of them have had at least one unimpressive win against a team considered significantly inferior.
Consequently, consider one of the four postseason spots already filled.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.
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