The Mississippi State football team needed an answer.
Less than five minutes into Saturday’s game at Davis Wade Stadium, visiting Alabama had cashed in on an early mistake by Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers. Crimson Tide signal-caller Bryce Young found John Metchie for a 46-yard touchdown pass, giving Alabama a 7-0 lead.
When Mississippi State got the ball back, it had a chance to prove it was up to the challenge. With seven points, the Bulldogs could tie the game and give as good as they got.
They only scored three.
A promising Mississippi State drive stalled deep in Alabama territory, leading to a 44-yard Brandon Ruiz field goal. The Bulldogs never got a better scoring chance in an ugly 49-9 loss.
The Dispatch broke down each of the 12 plays of Mississippi State’s pivotal second drive.
Play No. 1: First-and-10 at the Mississippi State 25. Running back Woody Marks sneaks out of the backfield. Rogers finds Marks in the left flat, and Marks sneaks through a gap between three Alabama defenders to pick up a first down and a 12-yard gain.
Play No. 2: First-and-10 at the MSU 37. Rogers calls for the snap with 26 seconds left on the play clock and promptly tosses a shovel pass to Marks. Thanks to a nice block by left guard Kameron Jones, Marks makes it to the 45-yard line with an 8-yard pickup.
Play No. 3: Second-and-2 at the MSU 45. Mississippi State lines up with both Marks and J.J. Jernighan in the backfield, flanking Rogers. Alabama linebacker Christian Harris sprints around the edge just as Rogers hands the ball off to Marks, who darts forward for a 4-yard gain and a first down before Brian Branch brings him down.
Play No. 4: First-and-10 at the MSU 49. With the Bulldogs showing split backs again, Alabama defensive back Malachi Moore comes around the right side unblocked. He forces Rogers into a bad throw to Jernighan, behind the running back and off his fingertips.
Play No. 5: Second-and-10 at the MSU 49. Rogers takes the snap with two receivers to each side of him and Marks to his right. Rogers fires left for wide receiver Malik Heath on a slant route. It’s an accurate throw, but Heath drops the pass.
Play No. 6: Third-and-10 at the MSU 49. On a three-man rush from Alabama, linebackers Dallas Turner and Will Anderson Jr. close in on Rogers, having gained ground on left tackle Charles Cross and right tackle Scott Lashley, respectively. Rogers steps up in the pocket to avoid Turner and takes off upfield, cutting to his left to avoid Harris. Harris still trips up the quarterback, but Rogers has an 11-yard gain and a huge first down.
Play No. 7: First-and-10 at the Alabama 40. Harris runs right by Lashley around the right edge and has an unimpeded path to the quarterback. Just before taking the hit, Rogers flings the ball to a wide-open Heath, who waits for the football at the 33.
Play No. 8: Second-and-3 at the Alabama 33. With an empty backfield and five wide receivers, Rogers and the Bulldogs employ a nifty play design. Heath, lined up outside on the left, cuts inside while slot receiver Austin Williams blocks Heath’s defender, Alabama cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis. Heath catches the screen pass at the 34 and cuts upfield, tackled by Henry To’oTo’o and Daniel Wright past the first-down marker.
Play No. 9: First-and-10 at the Alabama 27. Marks goes to his right out of the backfield, but Rogers doesn’t spot him right away. The extra time allows Alabama’s Josh Jobe to sniff out the play and tackle Marks for a 1-yard gain.
Play No. 10: Second-and-9 at the Alabama 26. The Bulldogs go to split backs again with Heath alone on the left side and two receivers on the right side. Heath has a step on Armour-Davis to the inside, but miscommunication between Rogers and his receivers rears its head. The quarterback throws to the outside, nowhere near Heath, and the ball falls incomplete.
Play No. 11: Third-and-9 at the Alabama 26. For the first time on the drive, Rogers targets the Bulldogs’ leading receiver, Makai Polk. Polk runs a strong route and waits at the sticks for the pass, but Rogers overthrows it. The football sails out of bounds.
Play No. 12: Fourth-and-9 at the Alabama 26. Mississippi State faces fourth down for the first time on the drive, and the Bulldogs don’t hesitate. They send out kicker Brandon Ruiz, who appears for the first time since Sept. 11 against North Carolina State. Ruiz knocks a 44-yard field goal through the uprights as MSU settles for three points, capping a disappointing drive.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.