There were so many things that looked uncharacteristic for the Alabama defense.

The Crimson Tide struggled for much of the night against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs held the ball for more than 38 minutes and scored on four long drives. Alabama surrendered three rushing touchdowns, the most it had ever allowed under Nick Saban.

The defense didn't force a turnover all night. Until late in the fourth quarter, it didn't force a single three-and-out.

"There were a lot of plays that should have never happened," senior linebacker Rashaan Evans said. "Those were just on us, to be honest with you. A lot of things that we did wrong."

But it got one stop when it was needed most. That lone three-and-out came after the offense missed a 41-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. Mississippi State's offense took over with 2:03 to go in a 24-24 game with momentum and a roaring crowd ringing all around it.

Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald threw incomplete passes on first and second down, then was tackled for a loss on third down. Alabama's defense got off the field and gave its offense another shot to win the game.

"It was crucial," cornerback Anthony Averett said. "We all talked about finishing this year. In a game like this, like last year at Clemson, this year we have to finish. We finished out there."

The defense was called on one more time to defend against Mississippi State's last gasp. Alabama linebacker Keith Holcombe was flagged for pass interference on a Hail Mary attempt that would have been the final play of the game. Mississippi State heaved one more pass, but it went out the back of the end zone.

There were a handful of costly penalties that contributed to sustained Mississippi State drives. Alabama had gotten a stop on the game's opening drive, but was flagged for roughing the kicker on fourth down to give the ball back to Mississippi State. Safety Hootie Jones was called for holding on third down late in the first quarter. Mississippi State would go on to score on that drive and take a 14-7 lead.

"The defense needs to get their own rest sometimes," UA coach Nick Saban said.

The Bulldogs converted eight of their 15 third downs, scoring on drives of 57, 73, 69 and 56 yards against the Alabama defense. Evans said third down will be a priority for the defense as it prepares for its final two regular-season games.

Mississippi State also finished with 172 rushing yards, the most allowed in a game by Alabama since the 2015 season.

"They had a really good plan," Saban said. "They played slow. They're usually a no-huddle team, but they played slow to try to shrink the game, try to make it a close game and have great time of possession, which they ended up having."

It was Alabama's first game without starting inside linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, lost for the season to a knee injury last week. Saban said some of Alabama's young players struggled at times on defense.

But in the end, the defense had the moment it wanted.

"We thought about those things that happened in the Clemson game and we wanted to make sure we finished," Evans said.

 

Reach Ben Jones at ben@tidesports.com or 205-722-0196.