TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s lead had dwindled into dangerous territory against the nation’s top-ranked team.
Suddenly, Blake Sims and the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide’s offense roared to life with a downfield march full of clutch plays. The result was a decisive fourth-quarter touchdown that finally provided some comfort in Saturday’s 25-20 victory over No. 1 Mississippi State.
“It was one of the greatest drives in Alabama history, probably,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
And it came in one of the biggest games in Mississippi State annals.
The Tide (9-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference, No. 5 CFP) reasserted itself as a national title contender with a dominant first half and some clutch play in the fourth quarter. Alabama had been stuck just outside of the top four teams in the College Football Playoff rankings but powered its way squarely into the mix.
Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs (9-1, 5-1, No. 1 CFP) kept fighting to keep their first-ever reign going for a sixth week. They couldn’t conquer Alabama at raucous Bryant-Denny Stadium, though.
“We should feel awful,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “You should have a sickness in your stomach. We should embrace this feeling to make sure that this feeling doesn’t happen again. We’ll feel sick tonight but then we’ll get over it.
“Except for being undefeated, every other goal is still ahead of us.”
Mississippi State scored early in the fourth to make it a six-point game but Sims and Yeldon answered with a start-and-stop march to the end zone.
The Bulldogs produced a touchdown with 15 seconds left after a drive took 3 precious minutes off the clock.
Alabama recovered the onside kick to secure its seventh straight win in the series between two programs separated by some 85 miles, and considerable gaps in tradition.
The Bulldogs fell one win shy of the program-record 13-game winning streak but probably remain in the championship hunt. They were the only unbeaten team in the brutal SEC coming into the game, and didn’t go down quietly after trailing 19-3 at halftime.
“We just started playing football,” Mullen said. “We started making plays and started scoring.”
Down 25-13, Prescott had the Bulldogs driving in the final six minutes, even converting on fourth and 7. Then Landon Collins recorded Alabama’s third interception of the Heisman candidate with 5:01 left.
Sims completed 19 of 31 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown, but made his biggest plays on Alabama’s final touchdown drive.
He converted two third-and-long plays with runs a la Prescott, and delivered on a third with an 8-yard pass to Yeldon.
“He kept that drive alive a few times, reaching that third-down marker,” Alabama center Ryan Kelly said of Sims.
Then Yeldon, whose status was unclear all week with an ankle injury, kept the Tide moving with three straight runs, ultimately stepping out of a defender’s grasp to cap it with a 6-yard touchdown.
“Probably wasn’t as explosive as normal, but the guy’s a true warrior,” Saban said. “There was no way you were going to keep him out of the game. He wanted to play.”
Saban said Alabama’s defense had been tiring by the end of the third quarter, so that six-minute drive game that group some respite.
Yeldon finished with 72 yards on 16 carries while Amari Cooper caught eight passes for 88 yards and a score.
Prescott was Mississippi State’s workhorse as usual against a front seven that yielded sparse room to run and, at times, little time to throw.
Prescott was 27-of-48 passing for 290 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw a pass that was intercepted by Cyrus Jones in the end zone and another that halted a promising drive. He ran 22 times for 82 yards.
Josh Robinson, the SEC’s No. 2 rusher, was tackled for a safety in the first quarter and never got going. He gained just 37 yards on 12 carries.
The Bulldogs outgained Alabama 428-335 but the Tide didn’t commit any turnovers.
Mississippi State had trimmed it to 19-13 early in the fourth quarter.
First Fred Ross’s 23-yard punt return set the Bulldogs up at Alabama’s 38. Prescott then finally found some running room with a 22-yard gain before hitting Ross for a 4-yard touchdown.
Then it was Sims’ turn for a drive that milked more than six minutes off the clock. Alabama is 5-0 at home, and this was the first one that was close.