Alabama’s defense harasses Fitzgerald in shutout win

Alabama’s defense continued to look more like a typical Alabama defense on Saturday, shutting out No. 16 Mississippi State 24-0 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The Crimson Tide shut out SEC opponents in back-to-back weeks for the first time in 38 years and shut out back-to-back AP-ranked teams for the first time in school history.

“I think we’ve practiced better [on defense] as the season has gone on,” coach Nick Saban said. “I think their preparation has been better, and I think that has contributed to us playing better and making fewer mental errors. … And [we did] a good job of implementing the plan two weeks in a row.”

The shutout was not always a certainty. Mississippi State had zero first downs in the first quarter, but Bulldogs running back Kylin Hill ripped off a 38-yard run into Alabama territory right after the Crimson Tide had taken a 21-0 lead late in the second quarter.

Mississippi State drove down to the Alabama 11-yard line, but its quest to put points on the board was derailed by a five-yard penalty for delay of game and an eight-yard sack on a blitz that got to Fitzgerald almost as soon as he received the snap.

The Bulldogs missed a 41-yard field goal, and the deficit was 21-0 entering halftime.

On Alabama’s first drive of the second half, it again gave the visitors hope. Sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa gifted them with good field position at the Alabama 40-yard line after throwing his second interception of the season.

Another sack, this one by sophomore linebacker Dylan Moses, forced the Bulldogs into 3rd-and-18. They punted one play later, and their last real threat to score was over. They didn’t cross Alabama’s 40-yard line again.

“[We] had some opportunities throughout the game, but too many miscues,” Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead said. “[W]hen you’re not running it well and you’re not moving it in the air and you’re not creating explosive plays against a team like this, you give yourself a hard time to win.”

The defense held Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who has the most rushing yards by a quarterback in SEC history, to a career-low rushing day. The senior officially finished with 14 carries for -23 yards – the first time in his career he’s finished with negative rushing yardage – but that includes yardage lost on five sacks.

Excluding those five sacks, Fitzgerald gained 12 yards on nine carries.

“He loves to keep the ball in his hands,” Moses said. “He’ll fake it a lot. So we felt like that was the main thing we wanted to take away. Once we took that away, [they] really couldn’t do anything else. It was mainly just putting pressure on him, making sure he had to make quick reads.”

Saban said that getting pressure on Fitzgerald without needing to bring extra rushers allowed Alabama to still devote seven players to pass coverage.

No Mississippi State player caught more than two passes, and Fitzgerald finished 11-of-20 through the air.

Alabama’s defense allowed fewer than two yards per carry for the fourth straight game, which it had never done under Saban.

“This [shutout] was a great accomplishment for us,” Moses said. “We’ll celebrate it for 24 hours and move on to Citadel.”

Alabama will host The Citadel (4-5) next Saturday at 11 a.m.

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