BAMA-MSU grades: Crimson Tide front seven dominates in shutout
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from Alabama’s 38-0 win against the Spartans in the Cotton Bowl.
Alabama Crimson Tide
– As it has all season long, Alabama’s defense yet again proved its incredible depth, as 11 different players graded out above +1.0. Although they were unable to bring a lot of heat, and put Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook under pressure on 26.7 percent of his dropbacks, which is relatively low for the Crimson Tide, they were very dominant against the run. As a result, of the 22 players who played more than 10 snaps, only three earned negative run defense grades. The Alabama defense, missing only two tackles the entire game, speaks about their discipline, while the fact that 28 of their 39 tackles were defensive stops shows how effective they were.
– The defensive unit was led by linebacker Reggie Ragland (+4.1), who stood out in all three facets of the game as he graded positively in run defense, pass coverage, and pass rush. While Ragland was not targeted in primary coverage in this game, he made sure several times that short receptions would not go the distance by receivers collecting yards after the catch. Although the linebacker did not record a sack or hit on his seven pass rushing snaps, he was still able to bat down one of Connor Cook’s passes. After watching the tape and seeing that Ragland was all over the field, it was no surprise to realize that he led his team both in tackles (seven) and defensive stops (five).
– Although, Ryan Anderson (+0.6) did not earn a grade above +1.0 due to a late unnecessary roughness penalty, he was still the most effective pass rusher for the Crimson Tide in this game. Anderson led the team in total pressures, as he recorded a sack, a quarterback hit, and a quarterback hurry. He also finished the game with the second-most defensive stops (four) on the Alabama defense, behind Ragland. His most impressive play came in the first quarter, when he recorded a quarterback hit on Connor Cook on a screen pass, and then got back and made the tackle on the receiver three yards downfield.
– Quarterback Jake Coker (+4.0) played his best when it was the most needed, as he was nearly flawless in Alabama’s win. Coker’s accuracy was off the charts in this game, as he was accurate on 26 of his 27 (96.3 percent) aimed attempts, after accounting for throwaways and dropped passes. He was on target on all of his passes within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage. Furthermore, while his only inaccurate pass came 20 or more yards downfield, he still completed three of his four deep throws for 141 yards and a touchdown.
LB Reggie Ragland +4.1
QB Jake Coker +4.0
WR Calvin Ridley +3.7
DE Jonathan Allen +3.5
LT Cam Robinson +3.5
Michigan State Spartans
– Unfortunately for Michigan State fans, quarterback Connor Cook (-3.2) played the worst game of his 2014 and 2015 seasons when it mattered the most. Cook’s grade of -3.2 was actually his lowest since we started grading college games. Alabama’s elite front seven cannot be even an excuse for Cook’s lackluster performance, as he performed worse from a clean pocket than when the pass rush got to him. Although he completed a higher percentage of his passes when he was not under pressure, he also threw both of his interceptions on these plays. In addition, while Cook only had two interceptions in this game, he continuously forced throws into tight windows and was fortunate the Alabama defense dropped a couple picks.
– While his offensive line—led by Jack Conklin (+4.0)—held up relatively well, Cook did not get a lot of help from other offensive skill players either. His best wide receiver, Aaron Burbridge (-2.7) also had his lowest graded game in the last two years, as he was almost invisible against the Alabama defense. Burbridge caught five of his nine targets for 39 yards, with his longest reception going for only 18 yards. Also, he dropped one of the passes going his way and fumbled the ball once, as well, in the fourth quarter.
– While they had a tough task going up against the Alabama defense, the Michigan State running backs also failed to provide a spark for the Spartans’ offense. Four different running backs carried the football for Michigan State in yesterday’s game, and none of them gained more than 11 yards on the ground or averaged more than 3.0 yards per carry. Although they failed to force a single missed tackle in this game, the fact that they averaged 0.5 yards before contact illustrates what they were facing in the Crimson Tide front seven.
– As is usually the case in a 31-0 loss, the Spartans’ issues were not exclusive to the offense, as on this day their defense was not up to the task, either. While Alabama’s defense missed only two tackles in the entire game, 10 Michigan State defenders combined to miss 16 tackles, with four of them missing more than one. Consequently, it is no surprise that the Spartans had four different defenders with run defense grades below -1.0, as linebackers Darien Harris (-1.1) and Jon Reschke (-1.2), defensive tackle Joel Heath (-1.9) and cornerback Jermaine Edmondson (-2.9) all struggled in this facet of the game.
LT Jack Conklin +4.0
DE Shilique Calhoun +2.2
DT Craig Evans +1.0
C Jack Allen +0.9
TE Josiah Price +0.9