Rapid reaction: Alabama steamrolls Michigan State in College Football Playoff semifinals
Here are some quick thoughts on No. 2 Alabama’s 38-0 win against No. 3 Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl on Thursday:
What it means: Simply put, the Crimson Tide dominated. Alabama has officially put last season’s College Football Playoff disappointment in the rearview mirror and will play against Clemson for the national championship on Jan. 11. The Crimson Tide flexed its defensive muscle against a Michigan State team that was rendered one-dimensional because it was unable to run the ball against a stout Alabama defensive front. Nick Saban will have the opportunity to coach for his fifth national championship, and his fourth as head coach at Alabama.
What I liked:
- The Crimson Tide defense was fantastic. In particular, the defensive front stole the show by suppressing a usually potent Spartans rushing attack and consistently getting pressure on Michigan State QB Connor Cook with a three-man or four-man rush. Michigan State’s offense never had a chance.
- Alabama QB Jake Coker picked the perfect time to have the game of his life. Coker stepped up to make big throw after big throw on Thursday night, and really made Derrick Henry an afterthought in this one.
- As was expected to happen at some point in the game, Alabama RB Derrick Henry surpassed the 2,000-yard rushing mark for the season early in the second quarter. It’s just another notch on the belt of the Heisman Trophy winner, who has turned in a 2015 season that will go down as one of the best in the history of the league. It was a relatively quiet night for Henry, but the fact that he scored two touchdowns on what would be considered a quiet night shows what an asset he has become.
- Nick Saban’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Michigan State 45 early in the second quarter. You could read his lips on the broadcast with a strong “Go for it,” and Coker’s QB sneak was successful. Although the Crimson Tide would still have to punt later in the drive, it was the ultimate show of confidence in his team, as well as a slight gamble in a game that was bogged down in a 0-0 tie.
- The sequence leading to the first touchdown of the game. Alabama dialed up a deep pass to Calvin Ridley, and Jake Coker put it right on the money for a 50-yard connection to the Michigan State 1, then the Crimson Tide rushed down the field and earned itself a free play by catching the Spartans with 12 men on the field. The penalty set up an easy Derrick Henry touchdown rush on first down to give Alabama a 7-0 lead.
- With his defense a little winded and on the ropes late in the final seconds of the first half, Alabama DB Cyrus Jones put an end to a 63-yard Spartans drive by anticipating a Connor Cook pass and intercepting it near the goal line. The play allowed the Crimson Tide to take a 10-0 lead to the locker room. Jones continued his memorable night with a fantastic 57-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter that is sure to become a staple on Alabama highlight reels.
- The officials took the time to review, and ultimately overturn, a pass to Calvin Ridley that ended up being a touchdown catch on the opening drive of the third quarter. It was a very close call, and some would argue that there was not indisputable evidence to overturn, but it appeared to be the right call, which gave the Crimson Tide a 17-0 lead. Ridley registered his second touchdown catch of the quarter on a 50-yard connection with Coker to push the lead to 31-0.
What I didn’t like:
- The pregame eagle flight. I’m as patriotic as they come, and the display during the pregame festivities was very nice. But who among the Crimson Tide fan base was happy to see this? The only pregame eagle flights involving Alabama football teams should be happening on The Plains. It left me wondering if I should say “War Eagle,” and that’s never a good thing at a Crimson Tide football game.
- Alabama knew that Michigan State was likely to be keyed up on stopping the run early, so the first six Crimson Tide offensive plays were called for someone other than Derrick Henry. While it may have seemed like an idea that could’ve popped a big play, it ultimately resulted in a punt on the first possession without giving the best player on the field a chance to establish himself early.
- The Crimson Tide defensive backs cost themselves a pair of pass interference penalties in the first half by simply not turning their heads around to find the ball. Both plays were very good coverage, but drew flags because the Alabama corners were not making an effort to play the ball, and instead gave the impression of impeding the Spartans’ ability to catch the pass.
- The first seven possessions of the game resulted in a punt. Great if you love defense, “yawn city” if you like offense.
- While I appreciate the effort, Alabama RB Kenyan Drake may have turned in the worst flop effort I have ever seen late in the second quarter. It was a delayed reaction, and I’m not sure who he thought he was fooling with this one.
Who’s the man: Alabama QB Jake Coker. Most of the talk about quarterbacks coming into this game surrounded Spartans QB Connor Cook, but it was Coker who stepped up with a big performance. He finished the game completing 25 of 30 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns.
Key play: Alabama DB Cyrus Jones, who made a key interception late in the first half, put the nail in Michigan State’s coffin with a highlight-reel punt return in the third quarter. Jones returned the kick 57 yards for a touchdown, juking Spartans defenders and alluded arm tackles on his way to pay dirt. It pushed Alabama’s lead to 24-0 with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
What’s next: And then there were two. The College Football Playoff will conclude on Monday, Jan. 11 in Glendale, Arizona, and it will do so with the two teams that the selection committee deemed as the nation’s top teams. Thanks to a 37-17 win against Oklahoma earlier Thursday, it will be No. 1 Clemson that stands in the way of Alabama and a national title.