ARLINGTON, Texas – The Alabama Crimson Tide (13-1 overall), ranked No. 2 in the College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings, produced a dominant performance for a 38-0 victory over the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans (12-2) Thursday night in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in front of a crowd of 82,812 at AT&T Stadium (capacity: 71,815). With the victory, Alabama advances to the CFP National Championship Game against the No. 1 Clemson Tigers set for Monday, January 11, 2016, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
The Alabama defense produced another excellent performance against a quality opponent, shutting down the Spartans’ offense for much of the game, holding the Spartans to only 29 rushing yards and 239 total yards. Meanwhile, Tide cornerback Cyrus Jones produced game-changing plays with an interception to stop an MSU scoring threat and a punt return for a touchdown that sealed the verdict. The Tide defense registered four quarterback sacks, posted six tackles for loss, and intercepted two passes.
Linebacker Reggie Ragland led Alabama with seven tackles while linebacker Dillon Lee had six stops and intercepted a pass. Linebacker Ryan Anderson had four tackles, including a sack and two tackles for losses. Linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Geno Matias-Smith also had four tackles in the game. Alabama limited MSU’s outstanding quarterback, Connor Cook, to 186 passing yards on 17 completions in 33 attempts with an interception and no touchdowns.
Alabama’s offense produced 440 total yards (286 passing, 154 rushing) led by senior quarterback Jake Coker’s career-best 286 passing yards and two touchdowns. Coker was deadly accurate, completing 25 of 30 pass attempts. Freshman wide receiver Calvin Ridley had 138 receiving yards on 8 catches for 2 touchdowns, setting a new Alabama freshman record for single-season receiving yards in the process (1,031 yards). Heisman Trophy winning running back Derrick Henry rushed for 75 yards and 2 touchdowns on 20 carries, becoming only the 25th running back in NCAA history (encompassing all divisions) to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. He enters the CFP title game with 2,061 rushing yards in 2015.
After a scoreless first quarter, the teams continued in a standoff well into the second quarter until the Tide moved 80 yards in six plays to a touchdown to break on top, 7-0, on a 1-yard run by Henry with 5:36 left in the first half. Clutch plays in the passing game keyed the drive that was highlighted by a 50-yard pass from Coker to Ridley that reached the MSU 1-yard line. Henry’s touchdown run was his 24th, breaking the Southeastern Conference record for rushing TDs in a season (previously held by Auburn’s Tre Mason in 2013 and Florida’s Tim Tebow in 2006). Placekicker Adam Griffith connected on a 47-yard field goal to give the Tide a 10-0 lead with 1:25 left in the half. Tide cornerback Cyrus Jones made a huge play at the end of the first half. The Spartans had marched to the Tide 12 in the final minute of the half before Jones leaped high to intercept a Connor Cook pass at the Tide 2-yard line in the waning seconds of the half, ending a scoring threat and protecting the Tide’s 10-0 lead heading into halftime.
Alabama extended the lead to 17-0 on the opening drive of the second half, moving 75 yards in nine plays to pay dirt on a six-yard pass to Ridley along the sideline in the end zone. Later in the third period, Jones returned an MSU punt 57 yards for a touchdown to give the Tide a 24-0 lead with 3:24 left in the third period. Just 1:04 later, Coker and Ridley connected on a 50-yard touchdown bomb to move the Tide to a 31-0 lead with 2:20 left in the third period. Henry closed the scoring with an 11-yard run with 7:52 left in the game.
Kickoff time for Alabama’s upcoming clash with Clemson is set for 7:30 p.m. Central Time (8:30 p.m. Eastern, 6:30 p.m. Mountain, 5:30 p.m. Pacific). The game will be televised by ESPN.
Alabama won the coin toss and chose to defer its option to the second half. Michigan State received the opening kickoff, which was a touchback. The Spartans picked up a first down on their initial play of the game on a defensive pass interference call, but were forced to punt the ball away when Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland brought down MSU quarterback Connor Cook behind the line of scrimmage on a quarterback draw on third down.
The Crimson Tide’s offense took to the air on its first possession, as quarterback Jake Coker connected with wide receiver Calvin Ridley on consecutive plays to convert one first down, but Coker’s pass to wideout ArDarius Stewart on a third-and-3 play was stopped shy of the line to gain. Tide punter JK Scott effectively pinned Michigan State at its own 5 with a 56-yard boot.
Cook was able to guide the Spartans offense out across the MSU 20, but the drive stalled there and Alabama quickly got the ball back at its own 29 after punt returner Cyrus Jones was brought down immediately on the punt return.
Tide running back Derrick Henry carried the ball for the first time in the game on the Tide’s next drive, rushing for six yards on second-and-3 following another reception by Ridley. The drive went in reverse from there, however, as Coker had the ball slip out of his hand on second-and-9 as he was trying to throw it away. The ball rolled out of bounds at the Tide 30, resulting in a loss of 13 yards. Scott came on to punt again, and the kick was downed at the Michigan State 32 after a 38-yard punt.
The Spartans started their next drive with just under six minutes to play in the opening quarter. They continued to attempt to get their ground game going, but failed to do so. However, on third-and-8 from the 34, MSU snapped the ball quickly and Cook found Felton Davis III wide open over the middle for 28 yards. That placed the ball at the Alabama 38, but the Tide defense stood tall on subsequent plays, recording a tackle for loss and a sack to push the Spartans back near midfield. MSU effectively flipped the field on the punt, downing the ball at the Tide 4.
Coker and Stewart teamed up to collect a huge first down for Alabama on third-and-6, moving the ball out to the 15 and extending the drive. The Tide’s senior quarterback found the sophomore receiver again on the final play of the quarter, as a screen pass netted 12 yards and another first down to the Alabama 31.
Score: Alabama 0, Michigan State 0.
Alabama continued to get several players involved on offense, as running back Kenyan Drake caught a pass for nine yards. Henry then carried the ball on four consecutive plays to push the ball across midfield, picking up one first down but getting cut down just shy of another on third-and-3. That left the Tide with a decision on fourth-and-1 from the MSU 45 and Coker called his own number on a sneak, which gained two yards to extend the drive. This time is was the Spartans’ defense who answered the challenge, preventing Alabama from moving producing points on a drive that lasted 14 plays and lasted nearly seven minutes.
State received another first down via a defensive pass interference penalty to jump start its next possession, moving the ball from its 25 to the MSU 40. On the next series, Cook and the Spartans were faced with a third-and-9, which was successfully converted thanks to a completion to Paul Lang on a seam route for 17 yards. That put Michigan State back into Alabama territory, where its offense stalled again. This time the punt sailed into the end zone for a touchback.
Alabama receiver Richard Mullaney recorded his first catch of the game to get the Tide moving, gaining 15 yards on the initial play of the drive. Coker then kept the drive going with an 11-yard completion to Stewart, which set up Alabama’s first deep pass of the game. On the next play, Coker launched a pass downfield that Ridley was able to get under near the Spartans’ goal line despite tight coverage. Ridley was marked down at the MSU 1 and, following a substitution penalty on the Spartans, Henry plunged into the end zone for the first score of the game. Placekicker Adam Griffith tacked on the extra point and the Tide held a 7-0 advantage with 5:36 to play in the half following the 6-play, 80-yard drive.
The ensuing kickoff by Griffith went out of bounds, setting up Michigan State with a first down at its own 35. Alabama’s defense came up with a quick three-and-out, capped off by junior linebacker Ryan Anderson’s sack of Cook on third down.
The Tide took over at its own 27 with just under four minutes remaining and immediately moved the chains when Coker hit tight end O.J. Howard for 14 yards. Two false start penalties on the next series put the offense in a second-and-16 situation, but Coker found Howard once again, this time along the sideline for 41 yards to the MSU 24. The Spartans recovered to force a field goal attempt from 47 yards out, which Griffith drilled to extend Alabama’s lead to 10-0 with 1:25 left.
Cook came out firing in the two-minute drill, quickly maneuvering his team across midfield with 12-yard tosses to Aaron Burbridge and R.J. Shelton. Cook was sacked once again, this time by defensive end Jonathan Allen for a loss of eight yards, but responded by hitting Macgarrett Kings Jr. for 26 yards to the Tide 30 on third-and-18. He connected with Burbridge on the next play for another 18 yards, creating the Spartans first red zone opportunity of the night. However, on first down from the 12, Cook’s pass was intercepted by Cyrus Jones at the Tide 1 with six seconds left in the half.
Score: Alabama 10, Michigan State 0.
Coker continued his outstanding play as the second half began, avoiding the blitz on the initial play of the second half to complete a pass to Mullaney, who reeled the ball in and turned it up field for 26 yards to the MSU 49. Michigan State’s defense assisted on keeping the drive alive, getting penalized for hands to the face on a third down play. The next series presented a third-and-3 from the Spartans 23, which was converted when Coker and Howard teamed up for a gain of four. Coker closed out the drive in style, lofting a beautiful pass on a fade route to Ridley, who wrestled the ball away from a defender and got a foot in bounds for the touchdown from six yards out. The 9-play, 75-yard scoring drive gave the Tide a 17-0 lead less than five minutes into the half.
Alabama’s defense produced its second three-and-out of the night, giving the ball back to the offense in less than two minutes of game time. Henry broke off his best run of the game to that point, breaking outside for 14 yards to begin the drive that began at the 26. Another big reception by Mullaney picked up another first down, this time on third-and-11, but an illegal block penalty on the next play thwarted the drive.
The Spartans offense could not capitalize, drawing a false start penalty before running a play on the drive that started at their own 15. Junior linebacker Tim Williams capped the drive by getting to the quarterback, forcing Cook into throwing the ball away while in the pocket, resulting in an intentional grounding call.
Punting from the back of his own end zone, Jake Hartbarger boomed a 57-yarder, which allowed Cyrus Jones to bring it in and get a head of steam before making a couple of moves and shredding an attempted tackle by Hartbarger on his way to the end zone. Griffith was good on the extra point, and the Tide held a commanding 24-0 lead at the 3:24 mark in the quarter.
MSU went three-and-out for the third consecutive possession, this time holding the ball for less than a minute. Cyrus Jones put together another solid return, this time for 18 yards to set up the offense at midfield. On the first play, Coker faked a handoff to Henry, buying time for Ridley to run a route deep down the field. Coker hit the rookie receiver in stride, as Ridley secured the catch just as he was crossing the goal line. It was the third touchdown of the quarter for Alabama, and after Griffith’s extra point, the advantage stood at 31-0.
The Spartans finally converted a first down when it got the ball back for their fourth drive of the second half. The quarter ended with Michigan State facing a third down near midfield.
Score: Alabama 31, Michigan State 0.
Cook kept the drive going with a shovel pass to Josiah Price despite heavy pressure, who gained 18 yards on the play. The Spartans were turned away once again however, as on fourth-and-4, Cook rolled out and got the pass away, but it was batted down by Ragland. The Tide could not secure a first down and had to kick the ball away to the Spartans, who took over at their own 14 after a 53-yard punt by Scott.
After the fourth three-and-out of the half for State, Alabama started its next possession at the 31. Drake took the handoff on the opening play, bouncing it to the outside and bursting up the sideline before cutting back across the field, eventually being brought down at the Spartans 11 for a 58-yard gain. After Drake was stood up on first down, Henry got the call on second down, using a stiff-arm to avoid a defender before racing 11 yards to the pylon for his second touchdown of the night. Midway through the final quarter of play, the Tide held a 38-0 lead.
State quickly pushed the ball into Alabama territory thanks to a 14-yard run by backup quarterback Damion Terry and a personal foul penalty on the Tide’s defense on the next play. However, for one final time, the defense came up with a big play to preserve the shutout, as senior defensive back Bradley Sylve broke up a pass on fourth down.
Sophomore quarterback Cooper Bateman came in for Alabama’s next offensive possession of the game. Freshman running back Bo Scarbrough converted one first down, but Bateman misfired on third down on the next series, giving the ball back to the Spartans one final time, but a spectacular interception by senior linebacker Dillon Lee with 31 seconds remaining secured the shutout victory.