TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama coach Nick Saban held a film session with Jalen Hurts this week to point out a few things to his young quarterback. Hurts was clearly paying attention.
The freshman passed for career highs of 347 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 100 yards in less than three quarters in No. 1 Alabama’s 51-3 rout of Mississippi State on Saturday. It put on display the potential of a passing game that had lately seemed the closest thing to a weakness for the Crimson Tide.
The win — coupled with Auburn’s surprising loss at Georgia — also meant Alabama clinched the SEC West title.
Hurts’ prolific performance wiped out any concerns that the Tide (10-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference, No. 1 CFP) would have a letdown after a bruising win at No. 19 LSU. Instead, Hurts turned in his best game and the defense denied Mississippi State (4-6, 2-4) the end zone on nine trips across midfield.
“It’s one of the things we’ve been wanting to do is try to develop some confidence in the passing game, and obviously he was able to do that very well today,” Saban said. “He got the ball to some of our playmakers down the field and they had opportunities to make big plays.”
Hurts is the first Alabama player to have 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in the same game, and he was flirting with both those milestones by halftime.
The Bulldogs had been riding high after an upset of No. 10 Texas A&M, but didn’t muster a threat in this one.
Hurts completed 28 of 37 passes and rushed for a fifth touchdown before being replaced by Cooper Bateman late in the third quarter. The big performance was marred by an interception and fumble, but the Tide’s dominating defense made sure the miscues didn’t matter too much.
“In practice, he’ll sling it,” Alabama guard Ross Piersbacher said. “It’s fun to see him do that in a game. I think that’s big for his confidence.”
ArDarius Stewart was the biggest beneficiary of the passing revival, scoring three touchdowns. Stewart gained 156 yards on eight catches, including a 67-yard sprint on a jet sweep.
Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald couldn’t solve Alabama’s defense after two huge games. He completed 10 of 33 passes for 145 with an interception. Fitzgerald was also held to 15 rushing yards after topping 900 total yards combined against Texas A&M and Samford.
“We had five dropped passes in the first half,” Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said. “That’s not good when you’re playing a great defense. It’s not good when you’re playing a bad defense, but when you’re playing a great defense you cannot do those things.”
Alabama outgained the Bulldogs 615-274 in total yards and has won nine straight meetings.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs couldn’t finish off drives, including the two started in Alabama territory, or offer a strong follow-up to last week’s upset. Fitzgerald and star receiver Fred Ross (three catches, 23 yards) were held in check.
Alabama: Hurts and the Tide got the passing game going against the league’s worst pass defense. Hurts hadn’t reached 200 yards passing in the previous three games, but might have emerged from this one with a shot at some Heisman Trophy votes. The defense went seven straight quarters without allowing a point.
Saban joined Ohio State’s Woody Hayes and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden in a tie for the most wins with a top-ranked team by any coach. He’s 40-5, matching Bowden. Hayes went 40-4-1 with No. 1 teams.
Alabama should hold firm as the clear leader in the playoff and AP rankings .
Hurts joined Steadman Shealy in 1979 as the only Alabama quarterbacks to rush for 700-plus yards in a season. He has 735 yards, 56 shy of Shealy’s record.
Mississippi St.: hosts Arkansas needing to win its final two games to become bowl eligible.
Alabama: hosts FCS team Chattanooga in an Iron Bowl tuneup.