STARKVILLE, Miss. – Calvin Ridley caught five passes for 171 yards, his seventh career 100-yard game.
He had catches of 63, 61, 1, 15 and 31 yards. The first two set up Alabama’s first two touchdowns. The last two came during the Tide’s last-minute touchdown drive.
“You look what he did tonight, hands down, No. 3 (Ridley) was the best player on the field tonight,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “The game on the line, he made every play, no question. He’s their guy.”
Ridley now has at least one pass reception in all 40 games of his Alabama career, which is third in the FBS among active players.
Hurts so good: The sophomore quarterback was smart enough to keep feeding Ridley. Hurts was 10 of 19 passing for 242 yards, including the clutch 26-yard game-winner to true freshman DeVonta Smith with 25 seconds remaining.
“We’ve been in situations like this,” Ridley said when asked about Hurts’ poise. “We practice against that type of stuff. We just made some great plays right then.”
Hurts averaged 24 yards per completion. His 242 yards through the air has him in ninth place on the Alabama career passing list with 4,428 yards. Freddie Kitchens is eighth with 4,668 yards from 1993-97.
Hurts’ rushing touchdown on a 1-yard keeper and the TD pass to Smith moved his career TD responsibility total to 56. He is in third place on the Alabama career TD responsibility list behind John Parker Wilson, who had 58 touchdowns from 2005-08. Hurts now had 35 TD passes and 21 rushing TDs in 25 games.
“The explosives were the difference in the game,” Mullen said. “They hit all the explosives and we missed some.”
Protection: Hurts was dynamic, but he was also sacked five times for 22 yards in losses. State’s Gerri Green had one sack and two quarterback hurries.
Alabama sacked quarterback Nick Fitzgerald just once, a 10-yard loss by Rashaan Evans. Fitzgerald was hurried four times. The Bulldogs had allowed just five sacks all season, third fewest in the country behind only Army (one) and Marshall (four).
Alabama now had 30 sacks and 45 quarterback hurries.
Late lift: Josh Jacobs gave the Tide a spark, running and catching the ball on the perimeter as the Tide found more success going outside late in the game. Jacobs finished with six carries for 36 yards with four carries for 18 yards coming in the fourth quarter. He also caught two passes for 18 yards.
“We talked about, at halftime, getting back to running some catch sweeps and we weren’t running them to use them as eye candy for the defense,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “We wanted to try to run the ball on the perimeter a little more. I think the players did a really good job of that. We moved the ball very effectively in the second half.
“Josh was a different cat for us, being a quick, explosive and fast guy. He hasn’t been healthy all the time, but I think he was a change-of-pace guy that could go in there and do what he did.”
Mistake-free: Mississippi State took Alabama to the brink by not making mistakes.
The Bulldogs have not lost a fumble on offense this season. Their only lost fumble of the season came on a special teams play.
Against opportunistic Alabama, that’s a key to survival.
The Crimson Tide’s 36-game streak of forcing at least one turnover ended Saturday night. That streak started on Sept. 26, 2015 against ULM. Alabama was 35-1 in those games, the only loss in the national championship game against Clemson in January.
Neither team helped the other. Alabama didn’t turn the ball over, either. The Crimson Tide has just five turnovers this season – one against Texas A&M and two against Arkansas and Tennessee. Alabama has forced 16 turnovers – 12 interceptions and four fumble recoveries.
Because State really did nothing wrong, Mullen said it was “frustrating” to not get the victory.
“Our guys played their tail off, they played hard for 60 minutes,” Mullen said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason. … It’s not easy to beat the No. 1 team in the country, but I guess we get opportunities every year. We’ll get another shot at them again next year.”
Career high: Hootie Jones, one of Alabama’s game captains along with Da’Ron Payne and Bradley Bozeman, had a career-high 10 tackles against the Bulldogs. He twice had recorded six tackles, most recently against Tennessee. Jones also broke up one pass.
Still perfect: Alabama’s 10-0 record isn’t the only thing that stayed intact. The Crimson Tide extended its streak of fourth-down conversions to 12 for 12 this season. Hurts converted on fourth-and-4 from the State 34 early in the fourth quarter. His 13-yard carry got the ball to the State 21-yard line and set up an Andy Pappanastos’ field goal attempt that was unsuccessful as it bounced off the uprights and fell to the ground.
An even more remarkable streak continued. Alabama again scored in every quarter, making them a perfect 40 for 40 – 40 quarters with at least one score – this season.
The streak dates back to the third quarter of the national semifinal game against Washington in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
SEC streak: Alabama also extended its SEC winning streak to 22 consecutive games in the regular season, dating to a 38-10 victory at Georgia on Oct. 3, 2015. That’s the second-longest in school history. Alabama’s record of consecutive SEC wins is 27 from 1976-80.
Tide as AP No. 1: Alabama has played 84 games as the nation’s top-ranked team in the AP poll. The Tide is 73-11. Under coach Nick Saban, Alabama is 54-6 as the AP No. 1.
Bulldogs vs. No. 1: Mississippi State is 1-7 against teams ranked No. 1, including 0-3 in Starkville. The Bulldogs defeated a top-ranked Alabama team 6-3 in Jackson, Miss., during the 1980 season. Seven of the eight opponents have been Alabama. The Bulldogs also lost at home 29-19 to top-ranked Florida in 2009.
The series: Alabama leads the all-time series 80-18-1 after vacated wins and forfeits. This was the 102nd meeting between the programs. Alabama has won 10 straight in the series, dating to a 17-12 State victory on Nov. 10, 2007 – Nick Saban’s first season with the Crimson Tide.
What’s next: Believe it or not, Alabama has to wait two weeks to play the Iron Bowl. Instead, Mercer visits Bryant-Denny Stadium in the Crimson Tide’s home finale. Another believe it or not: This is not the first meeting between the two programs. The Tide leads 2-0 with wins in 1939 and 1940.
Mercer competed in football from 1892-1941 before discontinuing the program. It revived football in 2013. The Bears are 5-5, including a 35-33 victory Saturday over Western Carolina. Their season included a 24-10 loss at Auburn on Sept. 16.