After that penalty, the Bulldogs ran eight more plays and stayed on the field for more than five more minutes. It also enabled MSU to flip the field, which it used to its advantage with a field goal on its second possession.
While Nick Fitzgerald is no Deshaun Watson, the Bulldogs’ game plan still was one that worked, especially when Alabama has depth issues at linebacker. Not even a great defense – i.e., Alabama’s unit last season – was able to withstand the sheer number of plays that Clemson ran.
While the offense converting its own third downs – the Tide was just 3-of-10 in that category – and staying on the field is just as ideal, Saban knows his defense must play better. Giving good offenses multiple opportunities to score is a situation Saban wants to stay out of if possible.
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The Bulldogs had two drives of at least 10 plays in the second half. The first, which ended with a TD that gave Mississippi State a 21-17 lead, covered 13 plays and 69 yards, and ate 6:38 off the clock in the third quarter. The next Alabama drive was a three-and-out that lasted barely a minute before the Bulldogs then put together a 10-play drive that saw them go 56 yards in 5:37; luckily for the Tide, the defense made a stop on third-and-6 and the drive ended in a field goal that made it 24-17.
Had Fitzgerald made a better throw on that third-down pass, this easily could have been an 11-point game in the fourth quarter – on the road – for Alabama. That would’ve changed things significantly, and the end of regulation becomes a lot more interesting.
Alabama gets one more opportunity to correct some problems and get a lot of guys some playing time this week against Mercer before the Iron Bowl showdown at Auburn in two weeks.
One thing for sure: Saban knows what must be fixed and the pressure is on to get it fixed quickly.
(You can follow Justin Nails on Twitter @justinnails)
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