Alabama Mississippi St Football

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) sprints past Mississippi State defensive back Brandon Bryant (1) for a short touchdown run during the first half on Saturday.

Rogelio V. Solis

TUSCALOOSA — Just call Jalen Hurts “the bus driver” and Josh Jacobs “the ignition.”

During halftime, after a rather inauspicious start, Alabama’s stoic sophomore quarterback challenged his teammates.

“I’m driving the bus, (but) the bus is pulling off, and you can either get on or get off,” Hurts recalled during a postgame interview on ESPN following Saturday night’s 31-24 final-minute victory over No. 16 Mississippi State. “They got on, and we got it done tonight.”

In a game where the Crimson Tide (10-0, 7-0 SEC) finally appeared mortal for the first time this season, it took Hurts’ poise under pressure and an unexpected spark from the often-overlooked Jacobs to remain undefeated Saturday.

Trailing 24-17 less than a minute into the fourth quarter, Alabama turned to its “change-of-pace” option in Jacobs to turn its luck around on the ground.

“Josh is a different sort of cat for us being a quick, explosive, fast guy,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said of Jacobs after the game. “I think as a change-of-pace guy to go in there and do what he did tonight was probably the whole spark for the whole team.”

In an effort to take advantage of an overly aggressive Mississippi State defense that blitzed nearly every down, the Tide utilized zone-read perimeter runs eight times during a 10-play scoring drive to open the frame and 13 of its first 15 offensive plays to account for 136 rushing yards.

It was in those moments that Jacobs made the most of his quickness around the edge, busting off runs to the outside of 7, 13 and 11 yards in between keepers by Hurts for 18 and 14 yards to move deep into State territory.

“Just his competitive disposition about how he ran the ball — (his) second effort — I think affected everyone out there, and that was probably a good thing,” Saban said of Jacobs. “He was very productive and very effective for us.”

Following a skipped third-down pass, Hurts surveyed the field on fourth-and-4 and took off, running up the middle of a stingy Bulldogs defense for 13 yards to the MSU 21-yard line.

“That’s why we love Jalen’s feet, his running (ability), because sometimes we’re not going to get open every time and he does the little things that we need,” junior receiver Calvin Ridley said.

Two plays later, after another 7 yards on a zone-read keeper, junior running back Damien Harris burst through a small hole at the line to score the game-tying 14-yard touchdown run with 9:49 remaining.

Through the first 45 minutes of action, the usually-productive Tide rushing attack had just 82 yards on 19 carries, which included three sacks of Hurts.

But behind the physical running of Harris, Hurts, Jacobs, and Bo Scarbrough, Alabama’s ground game tallied 120 yards on its final 19 carries in the fourth. Harris finished with 93 rushing yards on eight totes, followed by 31 of Jacobs’ 36 yards coming in the fourth quarter, as did 29 of Scarbrough’s 33 yards Saturday.

Thanks to the effective run game, the Tide’s tired defense got a breather and then stopped Mississippi State’s own methodical attack on back-to-back possessions before handing the ball right back to its own offense with 1:09 left in regulation.

“The game was on the line, and we went for it on fourth down (on a series) that ultimately tied the game up,” Saban said. “(And) so for us to come right back after we tied the game up and get a (couple of) stops was critical.”

And after relying on big plays earlier — including Ridley receptions of 61- and 63-yards that led to two first-half touchdowns, and a 48-yard run by Harris that set up a 30-yard field goal for a 17-14 lead early in the third — Hurts and Ridley connected once again.

Ridley, who finished with five catches for a season-high 171 receiving yards Satuday, pulled in two catches for 46 combined yards inside the final minute before Hurts found freshman Devonta Smith on a quick slant for the game-winning 26-yard touchdown strike with 25 seconds left.

In the fourth quarter alone, Alabama accounted for more than 43-percent of its total offense (192 of 444 yards) Saturday, including 59 percent of its rushing total and 30 percent of its passing total, figures sparked by the elevated play of Hurts and Jacobs.

“Most of the time, the bigger the situation, the better he is,” Saban said of Hurts. “He did a really good job tonight and I think the players really believe in his leadership, and I think that’s really critical in tough situations at the end of the game like we had tonight.”

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