No. 2 Alabama stayed unbeaten by topping No. 16 Mississippi State in a thriller in Starkville on Saturday, 31-24.
The Tide should be the No. 1 team in the next College Football Playoff committee ranking, out Tuesday, after Georgia lost Saturday to Auburn.
The game-winning score: A 26-yard touchdown pass from Jalen Hurts to true freshman DeVonta Smith with 25 seconds left.
Two plays earlier, the Tide were facing a third-and-15 at their own 43, on the verge of punting to set up overtime. Hurts found Calvin Ridley on a 31-yard catch-and-run to the MSU 26, which paved the way for Smith’s second career touchdown.
The Tide survived an untimed-down Hail Mary attempt after a penalty on Mississippi State’s ensuing drive, when MSU QB Nick Fitzgerald overshot the end zone.
That penalty on the Tide:
No. 42, in white, linebacker Keith Holcombe, basically ran a MSU receiver out of the play. But the foul was only a 15-yard penalty, so the Bulldogs didn’t get too close. The NFL’s pass interference rule would’ve given MSU a far better chance to win.
Alabama’s senior kicker, Andy Pappanastos, had clanged a go-ahead field goal try off the left upright with two minutes left and the score tied at 24. Mississippi State had a shot to win the game after that but went nowhere in three plays and had to punt. That set up Hurts’ and Smith’s heroics in the final minute.
The Tide hadn’t been seriously challenged during their 9-0 start.
They’d played a few somewhat competitive games, most notably an eight-point win at Texas A&M in October. But in every game they had played, the Tide were an inevitability. Nobody was close to beating them, even if a few teams stayed with a score or two for a while.
Mississippi State had played enough good games to indicate it was dangerous, even though the Bulldogs got blown out in back-to-back weeks at Georgia and Auburn. They obliterated both LSU and A&M and hadn’t lost to anyone worse than a current top-10 team. Starkville makes for a difficult road atmosphere, and MSU had the confidence of a four-game winning streak. The ingredients were in place for an upset bid, at least.
This year, Nick Saban’s seemed especially worried about the possibility for his team to get shocked by someone. He has regularly called media hype for his team “rat poison” on his players’ minds and tried to tamp down expectations.
Two things no result Saturday was going to change: Alabama’s Iron Bowl game at Auburn in two weeks will decide the SEC West, and whichever team wins the SEC Championship Game is on its way to the Playoff.