Crimson Tide diplomatic in appraising current Spartans

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Mark Dantonio ponders Michigan State's next move in the second quarter.

Arlington, Texas – It's probably fine with Michigan State if the Spartans don't see Alabama for a while.

The last two meetings haven't gone so well.

After the Crimson Tide ravaged the Spartans, 38-0, in Thursday night's Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium, Alabama ran its cumulative two-game score against MSU to 87-7.

Five years ago, 'Bama beat Michigan State, 49-7, at the Capital One Bowl, an annihilation MSU coach Mark Dantonio said wouldn't be repeated this year "because we're a different team."

Well, yes. Eleven points better on defense, but a touchdown short on the other end.

"It was a closer game than that one (in 2011) – from my perspective, anyway," Dantonio said, speaking of Thursday night's tumble in a College Football Playoff semifinal game.

"They were able to run the ball much more effectively that time."

Alabama coach Nick Saban agreed that, on a relative level, Michigan State is not to be confused with that Spartan gang of yesteryear.

"I don't like to make comparisons," Saban said, "but I see a lot of improvement in quality of player, size of player.

"They've got a really good defensive front. We struggled to run the ball against them.

"Fine quarterback. Good skill guys."

Diplomacy, it seems, is always the safe route when you've just turned your opponent into hash.

Nothing new

Cyrus Jones had a sparking night for the Crimson Tide. In assorted ways.

For his first act, he pilfered an end-zone pass from MSU quarterback Connor Cook that was intended to be a touchdown to Aaron Burbridge.

It gave 'Bama a 10-0 halftime lead and kept the Spartans from gaining steam ahead of the third quarter.

That third quarter, by the way, became the property of Alabama after Jones grabbed a punt and did various dance steps en route to a 57-yard touchdown.

A questioner suggested to Saban that Jones had pulled a "Walter Payton hesitation step" en route to the end zone.

Had the head coach ever seen such a move from Jones, he was asked?

"Yeah," Saban answered, dryly, "I see him do it in practice."

The interview room's audience laughed.

Jones shrugged.

"It was something I grew up doing," he said. "My favorite player growing up was Tavon Austin, a guy I grew up watching from Baltimore.

"He had moves similar."

If only Jones had seen a Fred Astaire movie.

Quite a run

Since their head coach arrived nine years ago, Alabama has these statistical blue-ribbons ready for showcasing:

* The Crimson Tide have a 39-13 record against Associated Press Top 25 teams.

* Alabama has scored 42 non-offensive TDs in Saban's nine seasons: 16 on interceptions, 13 on punts, five on kickoffs, four thanks to fumbles, and four courtesy of blocked punts. In other words, 'Bama beats you in every way football legally permits.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

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