Saturday was not the ending Crimson Tide fans expected back in August.
But it was a win, and a dominant one at that. Alabama’s 49-7 victory over No. 9 Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl was its most impressive of the season and likely the most impressive bowl performance by any team this year.
“It was annihilation,” offensive lineman David Ross said. “Pure and utter annihilation.”
The 61,519 in attendance at the Citrus Bowl stadium saw Alabama post the largest win margin in Capital One Bowl history (old record was 33) and nearly record the first shutout in the bowl since East Carolina blanked Maine in 1965.
“Sometimes there’s an avalanche that comes upon you,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. “It didn’t go very well for us today.”
Alabama controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Offensively, six of the Tide’s seven touchdowns were rushing scores. Running backs Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram combined for three first half scores, and Ingram’s second broke Shaun Alexander’s school record of 41 career rushing touchdowns.
Alabama’s last touchdown of the first half came when Julio Jones scored on a 35-yard reverse, a play that was sprung by the downfield blocking of Greg McElroy. Although the quarterback pancaked the final defender between Jones and the end zone, McElroy didn’t give himself any credit.
“The one time I could probably get credit for making a physical play, it’s because Julio set it up,” McElroy said. “I’m surprised I didn’t trip on myself running around the edge.”
Many of Alabama’s games this year had seen the Tide relax after building a big lead. Saturday’s victory will not be part of that list.
After building a 28-0 halftime lead, Alabama scored on its fourth offensive play of the third quarter when wide receiver Marquis Maze beat his man deep for a 37-yard touchdown catch.
McElroy, playing in his last career game, was taken out with about nine minutes left in the third quarter to loud applause. He finished the game 13-of-17 for 220 yards and one touchdown.
“It was a surreal moment,” McElroy said. “It’s just nice to be able to appreciate the fans. They make it special. That’s why I came [to Alabama] – because I want to play for a passionate fan base and I want to make them proud.”
Alabama scored touchdowns on its first five possessions, but the Tide’s defensive front was probably even more impressive. Alabama held the Spartans to minus-48 yards rushing, recorded five sacks, and knocked the first two Michigan State quarterbacks out of the game with injuries.
“The pass rush up front made the biggest difference in the game,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “Once we started getting pressure and affecting the quarterback, whether the coverage was good or not, they didn’t complete the ball.”
Upshaw, the Capital One Bowl MVP, had two of the Tide’s five sacks, five solo tackles (3 TFL) and one forced fumble.
Sophomore safety Robert Lester snagged his eighth interception of the season on Michigan State’s first drive of the game. That ties him with Hawaii’s Mana Silva and Virginia Tech’s Jayron Hosley for the nation’s lead.
Running back Eddie Lacy added two touchdowns late in the game, and Michigan State finally got on the board with 5:45 remaining to make the final score 49-7.
“We asked the players to focus on taking advantage of their talent today and have enough poise to do it for 60 minutes,” Saban said. “We wanted to define this team as winners, and I think this 10-win season defines this group as winners.”