Rapid Reaction: No. 2 Alabama survives upset bid on Hurts' late TD pass
Auburn’s evening couldn’t have started any better.
Minutes after the Tigers put the finishing touches on No. 1 Georgia, Mississippi State took a 7-0 lead on No. 2 Alabama.
No doubt, the drinks were flowing, but that’s when the SEC’s lead bartender rang the bell. Last call was coming, just later than expected.
A whole lot later.
Jalen Hurts hit DeVonta Smith on the game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds left, allowing No. 2 Alabama to survive 31-24.
But it’s the how and why that play was necessary that held the nation’s attention most of Saturday night.
Alabama hadn’t trailed since falling behind Texas A&M 3-0 a month ago. Damien Harris erased that in one play.
Clearly, the Tide are slipping. They needed four plays to go 75 yards and tie the score in Starkville.
Then they fell behind again. Same way, too: another touchdown run from Aeris Williams. That was Mississippi State’s second rushing touchdown of the first half, just one shy of matching the total rushing TDs Alabama had allowed all season.
This time, they needed five plays to go 75 yards and tie the score again.
A strange first half it was: not only did MSU rush for the two touchdowns, Nick Fitzgerald completed two passes for 20 yards or more. He ranked just 10th in the SEC in that area entering the game.
But it was even stranger when Alabama had it. Jalen Hurts threw for 151 yards in the opening half — 124 of it going to Calvin Ridley on two long catch-and-runs. Hurts’ season-high in the SEC was a modest 198 against Tennessee. Ridley’s first-half yardage topped his season-high by 32 yards.
Oh, and that vaunted Bama run game, the one that entered the game ranked No. 9 in the country? It was held to 40 yards on 16 tough carries.
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The second half was more of the same, only this time Mississippi State erased an early deficit when Fitzgerald bulled his way over from the 2-yard line to take a 21-17 lead.
They stretched that lead to 24-17 early in the fourth quarter.
Then Alabama responded with perhaps its signature drive of the season: 10 plays, 82 yards, capped by Damien Harris’ 14-yard touchdown.
That game-tying score was only possible because of Hurts, who converted a 4th-and-4 with a 13-yard scramble.
Alabama’s defense finally held — what an odd statement — forcing Dan Mullen into a decision on 4th-and-3 at Alabama’s 42-yard line.
Mississippi State punted, giving Hurts and Co. another shot.
Alabama went to work immediately. Five consecutive runs pushed the ball to Mississippi State’s 31. A pass interference gave Bama 1st-and-10 at the 16, but the Bulldogs stiffened, stuffing Hurts multiple times to set up a 42-yard field goal attempt.
Andy Pappanastos’ kick clanked off the left upright, keeping the score tied at 24 with just over two minutes left.
MSU took over, but went nowhere.
Overtime seemed imminent.
Then Hurts hit Ridley, again, moving the ball across midfield. A costly sack pushed the Tide back into their territory.
Knowing a blitz was coming, Bama dialed up a slant to Ridley over the middle. Ridley took it 31 yards to the 26.
On the next play, Hurts hit Smith for another slant. Smith broke one tackle, spun and ran for a game-winning touchdown.
And now the entire state can celebrate the fact that the Iron Bowl is a mere two weeks away.