ORLANDO, Fla. -- The elusive 60-minute game came together in a way Nick Saban could have only dreamed it would.
Realistically, it took far fewer for Alabama to put it all together in a 49-7 rout of Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl. Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, was well rested by the time the postgame celebration rolled around. Heavy substitution began in the third quarter, giving the stars a chance to bask in a third straight season with at least 10 wins.
No, there was no comeback surrendered this afternoon.
Not with that defense. And the numbers -- they only told part of the story as Alabama forced the Spartans to play without the second dimension that won 11 games this season.
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The negative-48 rushing yards by the co-Big Ten champions missed an Alabama defensive record by one set against Houston in 1962.
There were 11 tackles for loss including five sacks that knocked two Michigan State quarterbacks out of the game. It took backup wide receiver Keith Nichol to throw the fourth quarter touchdown pass the kept the Spartans from being the shutout.
Keeping Michigan State (11-2) from exposing the depleted secondary, the first two tiers of the Alabama defense came through. And quarterback Kirk Cousins was the target.
“I think we affected him real good,” said game MVP Courtney Upshaw who had two sacks and one forced fumble. “Once we had the opportunity to get a hit on him, we wanted to take it. Once it was there, we took the hits.”
On the other side, Alabama’s offense was a machine cranking out 546 yards to Michigan State’s 171. Everyone got a turn as five running backs gained at least 35 yards and 10 Tide players caught passes in Greg McElroy’s curtain call after two seasons as a starting quarterback. He was 13-for-17 passing for 220 yards and a touchdown, while Ingram showed flashes of his 2009 Heisman Trophy season.
Scoring touchdowns on each of its first four possessions, the Tide (10-3) set a pace that Michigan State failed to match. The warm Florida temperature played right into Alabama’s hands.
“I think the heat was probably something that was beneficial to us,” Nick Saban said. “It was the reason we went no-huddle. We tried to wear their team down, and I think it did affect their defensive players.”
Gasping for air
From the sidelines, Marcell Dareus was stunned to see Spartan defenders struggling for air during Alabama’s 13-play touchdown drive that opened the game.
“That gave away some things right there,” Dareus said. “Why are you all tired? It’s still the first drive.”
Without the benefit of a running game, the Spartans put together a few meaningful drives in the first half. All, however, ended in disaster.
Following Alabama’s opening march, Michigan State converted three straight third-down opportunities before Dareus and safety Robert Lester spoiled the fourth. Forcing Cousins to pump fake, Dareus pushed the quarterback out of the pocket before throwing right to Lester, who made his eighth interception of the season.
Then, after Alabama made it 14-0 early in the second quarter, the Spartans drove to the Alabama 3. A substitution penalty was followed by an Upshaw sack and forced fumble that got batted back to the Tide 38, forcing a punt.
It was downhill from there for coach Mark Dantonio’s team.
“This game is a roller coaster,” he said. “ You can be in the locker room all focused, but, when you step on the field and things start flying around and things start to happen, you get sort of avalanched, and things start to roll on you a little bit or whatever.”
Commanded both sides
The Tide defense was strongest in the second and third quarters, when a span of five Michigan State drives netted one negative yard. Each ended in punts.
For as fragmented as the Spartan offense appeared, Alabama was equally efficient. The second two touchdown drives each had distinctive themes. Julio Jones caught all three of his passes on the second for 49 yards, and Ingram took over the following possession.
The Michigan native touched the ball four times in the seven-play drive and accounted for 56 of the 70 yards, including the final six that put the Tide ahead 21-0 and effectively iced one of the more lopsided victories of a year that included blowouts against San Jose State, Duke and Georgia State.
It took 13 tries for Alabama to put a full game together.
When it did, Michigan State had little to counter.
“It was the only opportunity we had left to define this team and show we had the heart,” Saban said.