JOE BIDDLE: Alabama hands top-ranked Mississippi State its first loss

The committee that will determine the four best college football teams after the regular season and conference championship games are in the books, got an eye full Saturday.

I would assume they didn’t miss a play when the SEC rolled out its two best teams for the Tussle in Tuscaloosa.

No. 1 Mississippi State against No. 5 Alabama. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Mississippi State’s team hopped on buses Saturday morning and covered the 84-mile trip to Tuscaloosa where the Crimson Tide was waiting to become the first team to remind the Bulldogs just who rules the SEC.

Bama got out of the gate early. They held State at arm’s length through three quarters before putting the finishing touch on the visitors, 25-20.

I’m not trying to influence the honorable members of the selection committee, but I dare you to show me two better college football teams than Alabama and Mississippi State.

You won’t find any team outside the SEC volunteering to take on these two teams.

These guys just don’t live in one conference. They reside in one division, that being the wild and wooly SEC West, where you have to prove yourself every week. There is no breathing room in the West.

These two teams have had bulls-eyes on their jerseys since they started knocking out other opponents who laid claim they belonged in the conversation.

Alabama had one loss coming into the game. The Crimson Tide lost on the road to Ole Miss. Mississippi State carried a clean 9-0 slate. They defeated three top 10 teams in No. 2 Auburn, No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 8 LSU in Baton Rouge. That’s as strong as 12 feet of new well rope.

Alabama led 25-13 with Mississippi State breathing down their necks in the fourth quarter. A touchdown would put State five points behind. When Bulldogs quarterback Zak Prescott dropped back to pass, it was deflected up front by Alabama’s defensive lineman, A’Shawn Robinson. The ball wound up Landon Collins’ hands, maintaining the 12-point lead.

But State would not give up. They drove 68 yards in 11 plays to pull within 25-20, leaving only 15 seconds in the game. Alabama smothered a desperation on-sides kick.

Mississippi State could withstand a loss and still make the playoffs. Alabama could not. They both have in-state rivals remaining in Auburn and Ole Miss.

As they have for all but the one hiccup, the Tide found a way to win. They carried that formula with them against Mississippi State.

“We made plays when we had to. Mississippi State has a great team. When you play the No. 1 team in the country, you knew they would come back,” Alabama Coach Nick Saban said.

“At the end of the third quarter, I thought we were tired on defense. This is a really good football team we played today.”

While Prescott threw for 290 yards and ran for 75 more, he was not as sharp as he has been. His three interceptions reflect that.

“The three interceptions were huge,” Saban said. “They were drive-stoppers. They came out in the second half and played outstanding football. That’s why they’re a good team. That’s why they’re number one.”

Alabama quarterback Blake Sims failed to take credit for the win even though he made two third down conversions in the pivotal fourth quarter.

“I give all the credit to the defense. They held the No. 1 team in the country,” Sims said after the game.

“Blake’s got good instincts, when to throw it and when to run it,” Saban said. “I trust Blake to make good decisions.”

Saban knows there is no rest for the weary.

“This is just like being in the playoffs now,” he said. “We can’t afford to lose.”

Contact WKRN Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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