STARKVILLE, Miss. – It’s hard to explain just how bleak things looked for Alabama Saturday night.
It wasn’t just the score – although the Tide was down 24-17 in the fourth quarter and Davis-Wade Stadium was shaking.
It wasn’t just the noise – although that was intimidating enough. Cranking your TV to full volume wouldn’t do it justice.
It wasn’t just the depth chart – although you could tell Mississippi State fully understood that, with the exception of Rashaan Evans, it had an advantage against Alabama’s inside linebackers.
It was all of that – and the mounting upsets that kept claiming other highly ranked scalps throughout a Saturday full of them.
Somehow, when it was so loud you couldn’t hear yourself think, the game slowed down – again – for Jalen Hurts. He did what he’s always done as Alabama’s starting quarterback. He answered.
He drove Alabama to a tying touchdown – a 10-play, 82-yard march that took 4:22 off the clock.
And when the Crimson Tide defense – which was shredded at times by a State attack that executed a smart, sharp game plan with surgical precision – finally rose up, Hurts was there again to win the game -- twice.
Mississippi State didn’t score on its final three possessions – after Alabama’s Damien Harris tied the game with a 14-yard run and Andy Pappanastos added the PAT with 9:49 remaining.
As great as State’s game plan was, coach Dan Mullen, who has never beaten Alabama, might wonder if he should have gone for it on fourth-and-3 at the Alabama 42. Instead, Logan Cooke punted into the end zone and the Tide took over with 6:30 to go.
Hurts drove the team into field-goal range but Pappanastos’ 40-yard field goal hit the left upright and bounced away. Cowbell bedlam.
Only State was held to a three-and-out – for the only time in the game – on its next possession and punted the ball back to Alabama with 1:09 left.
Hurts hit Calvin Ridley twice on the drive for gains of 15 and 31 yards. He then zipped a pass to DeVonta Smith for 26 yards and the game-winning touchdown with 25 seconds on the clock.
“We’ve been in situations like this. He definitely was very poised,” Ridley said of his quarterback. “We practice against that type of stuff. We just made some great plays right then.”
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said Hurts and Ridley were great when adversity hit.
“I think the execution and the ability to make plays when we needed them to – both Calvin Ridley and Jalen,” Saban said. “They were blitzing and did a really good job of handling the blitz from an offensive point at the end.
“We didn’t do it earlier in the game and we got sacked a few times, but Jalen did a good job of handling it at the end.”
Hurts had to answer the bell all night when it was evident the Tide defense had its hands full. It wasn’t just that Mississippi State ran up huge time of possession advantages and ran many more offensive plays than the Tide.
They did it on Alabama’s side of the field, too. Mississippi State snapped the ball 37 times for offensive plays in Alabama territory. That was more than half of their total plays of 73.
“I can’t tell you how happy and excited I am for the players,” Saban said. “They are very excited and happy. Sometimes if you win a game like this, it does a lot for everybody coming together.
“We certainly had to do a lot of that overcoming adversity, especially in the second half, in the fourth quarter.”
Coming into the game, Alabama had trailed for a total of just two minutes and 26 seconds this season. Florida State led 7-3 in the first quarter in the season opener, and Texas A&M led 3-0 for 13 seconds.
However, Mississippi State jumped out to a 7-0 lead and then led again 14-7 in the first half.
The Crimson Tide was able to answer both scores quickly. After Aeris Williams put State up 7-0 on an 11-yard touchdown run, Alabama marched 75 yards in five plays in 1:59 for a score. Hurts, who completed a key third-and-4 pass over the middle that receiver Ridley turned into a 63-yard run, scored on a 1-yard run around right end.
State regained the lead early in the second quarter when Williams scored on a 5-yard run. Again, the Tide went 75 yards in five plays, this time taking just 1:21. Ridley again caught a 61-yard pass from Hurts. On the next play, Josh Jacobs scored to tie the game.
Alabama kept answering in the second half and the Tide had all the answers at crunch time.