Sunday's roundup: Mississippi State-Alabama showdown looms

Associated Press

Starkville, Miss. — No. 1 Mississippi State has been an afterthought on college football's landscape during the past few weeks, securing ho-hum wins over inferior opponents with regular monotony.

That all changes Saturday.

The Bulldogs (9-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference, No. 1 CFP) travel to face No. 4 Alabama (8-1, 5-1, No. 5 CFP) in Tuscaloosa in what will be a showdown for Western Division supremacy. The game begins a pivotal three-game stretch, which also includes Vanderbilt and rival Mississippi.

Just minutes after Mississippi State beat Tennessee-Martin 45-16 on Saturday night, the Bulldogs had already switched their focus to the Tide.

"This is what you play for," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "We're in the middle of November, competing for first place in the SEC West, which is what it's all about. That's what you come here for. That's what we want our program to be like."

Mississippi State goes into the Alabama game on a 12-game winning streak that's second in the nation behind Florida State. That's one of many reasons the Bulldogs have plenty of confidence despite losing six straight games in the series dating to 2007.

The Tide are riding high after a come-from-behind, 20-13 overtime win at LSU.

Quarterback Blake Sims drove Alabama 55 yards in the final 50 seconds of regulation for a tying field goal, and threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to DeAndrew White in overtime to lift No. 4 Alabama.

"He didn't have one of his better games. It was tough," Alabama coach Nick Saban said about Sims, who finished 20-of-45 for 209 yards and two TDs without an interception. "He hung in there. He made some great plays when he had to. … I'm really, really proud of way he hung in there."

With the victory and Auburn's upset loss to Texas A&M earlier in the day, Alabama (8-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference, No. 5 CFP) is alone in second place in the SEC West Division with a game against first-place Mississippi State still on its schedule.

Amari Cooper had eight catches for 83 yards and a 23-yard touchdown while setting Alabama career and single-season records for yards receiving, as well as the school's single-season mark for catches with 79.

T.J. Yeldon's fumble deep in Alabama territory gave LSU (7-3, 3-3, No. 16 CFP) the ball on the Alabama 6 with the score tied at 10 and 1:13 left, but the Tigers' chances at a go-ahead touchdown diminished when offensive guard Vadal Alexander was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, moving the ball back to the 21.

That set up Colby Delahoussaye's 39-yard field goal that gave LSU a 13-10 lead with 50 seconds left.

"The penalty changed the complexion of the game," LSU coach Les Miles said, adding that he was going to "investigate" the call when he reviews video of the game. "We don't get a 15-yard penalty down there … we are talking about driving in for a 7-pointer."

Big November games are common for Alabama, but this is something new for Mississippi State.

"Playing in big time games in November means you're playing for championships," MSU quarterback Dak Prescott said. "To go to Tuscaloosa being the hunted is a challenge we are willing to take."

Prescott had a good game against Tennessee-Martin, throwing for two touchdowns and running for a 48-yard touchdown before being pulled from the game in the third quarter after the Bulldogs had built a big lead.

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior has been dealing with an injured left ankle, but looked healthy against the Skyhawks, scrambling for the long touchdown score and moving in the pocket with ease.

Mississippi State also cleaned up some of its miscues from previous weeks. After eight turnovers over a three-game stretch against Auburn, Kentucky and Arkansas, the first-team offense didn't have any against Tennessee-Martin.

The Bulldogs' offense continues to be nearly unstoppable — they're on pace for single-season program records in both points and total yards. But Mullen is still frustrated with his defense's inability to force three-and-outs and turnovers.

"I give our guys credit, we're finding ways to make plays, we're finding ways to win the game, even though we're doing a lot of things that you can't do to win games," Mullen said.

Mississippi State showed its depth in the win against Tennessee-Martin, which might prove useful in what will likely be a physically taxing game against Alabama. Ashton Shumpert ran for 82 yards and a touchdown while Brandon Holloway had 70 yards rushing and a touchdown.

Freshman Gabe Myles caught a team-high five passes for 54 yards. Junior Joe Morrow — the team's ninth-leading receiver coming into the game — caught a 55-yard touchdown pass.

While the Bulldogs will lean on stars like Prescott, running back Josh Robinson and receiver De'Runnya Wilson against the Tide, the hope is Alabama will have to be mindful of everyone on the field.

"We don't want teams to fear one of us," Morrow said. "We want them to fear all of us."

TCU states its case

Trevone Boykin and No. 5 TCU have gotten through what should be the hardest part on the field. At least until bowl season.

After four victories over ranked teams in six weeks, the latest a 41-20 drubbing of Big 12-leading Kansas State, the Horned Frogs (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) have made a strong case for one of the four spots in college football's new playoff. Three regular-season games remain, none against teams with a winning record.

TCU coach Gary Patterson was asked the same thing in different ways late Saturday night after a win over his alma mater. He kept responding the same way about where the Horned Frogs stand and if his players will be able to handle it.

"If they can't see what's in front of them, what they're going to do and how they got to do it, then I can't help them," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "You have everything in front of you. OK? … We've now put it there where we have more offense and doing some things we need to do, and here you go."

The Frogs were sixth in the College Football Playoff rankings before dual-threat junior quarterback Boykin ran for 123 yards with three touchdowns and passed for 219 yards and another score to end Kansas State's five-game winning streak. That put TCU in a three-way tie atop the Big 12 standings with the Wildcats (7-2, 5-1) and Baylor (8-1, 5-1), the team responsible for the Frogs' only loss.

Utah's freaky fumble

Kaelin Clay couldn't wait to get to get to the back of the end zone to celebrate.

Clay's long reception could have put Utah ahead of the No. 5 Ducks by two touchdowns, but he inexplicably dropped the ball on the 1-yard line.

"I know how important points are, so I take full responsibility," Clay said with tears in his eyes as his voice broke. "That shifted the whole game."

Joe Walker returned Clay's careless goal line fumble 100 yards for a touchdown to help Oregon turn back No. 20 Utah, 51-27 on Saturday night., Marcus Mariota threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score and Oregon turned back No. 20 Utah 51-27 on Saturday night.

Utah's Travis Wilson didn't get the start, but threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns after Kendal Thompson went out with a knee injury. Clay had 152 yards on five catches, but it was the 1 yard he let slip away that will be remembered most.

"It's just one of those things where I got excited," Clay said. "There's nothing I can do about it now."

Mariota was not at his best, but he did nothing to hurt his Heisman Trophy hopes while keeping the Ducks (9-1, 6-1 CFP No. 4) in the thick of the College Football Playoff race. The junior ran for 114 yards and was 17 for 29 for 239 yards passing.

"A gutty, gutty win by our team," Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said. "Definitely not a garden-variety 51-27 win, but a big, big win for a lot of reasons."

The Utes (6-3, 3-3) were on their way to taking a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter as Wilson connected Clay on a deep ball down the middle. Clay was cruising to an easy touchdown when he casually dropped the ball about a yard before he crossed the goal line. The ball sat on the turf for about 4 seconds, right at the feet of Oregon defensive back Erick Dargan.

While Clay celebrated with two teammates in the back of the end zone, Dargan finally picked it up and tried to take it out of the end zone. He got into a scrum with a Utah player and lost the ball. Walker then grabbed it and took off the other way. By then there was a flock of Ducks leading Walker against only one Utah player and Walker chugged in to tie the game at 7.

The Utes and their fans were stunned silent. Clay slumped down on the bench and briefly pulled his black head band down over his eyes.

"My teammates had my back and everybody tried to pick me up and then I forgot about it for a while, but at the end of the game it came back to me, full circle," Clay said.

Oregon also clinched the Pac-12 North and a spot in the conference championship game on Dec. 5, but lost a key player. Tight end Pharaoh Brown was carted off after an ugly right leg injury in the fourth quarter.

Spurrier apologizes

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier apologized for walking off without taking questions reporters after the Gamecocks' overtime loss to Tennessee two weeks ago.

Spurrier says he should've stayed and "faced the music."

Spurrier spent less than a minute at the microphone following a 45-42 defeat on Nov. 1, when South Carolina squandered a two-touchdown lead in the final five minutes.

The Football Writers Association of America complained to the Southeastern Conference and South Carolina last week, saying that Spurrier's quick postgame was unacceptable.

Spurrier acknowledged that Sunday. He said he was sorry and would try not to let it happen again.