By firstname.lastname@example.org (Kelly Ward)
ARLINGTON, Texas — The dry erase board in the Alabama locker room had four times listed on the dry erase board. Three were for warmups. The fourth had kickoff for the Crimson Tide against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl and College Football Playoff semifinal.
“7:20 – Kick msu ASS”
So they did, en route to a 38-0 win over the Spartans to advance to the College Football Playoff championship game against No. 1 Clemson.
The offense scored four touchdowns, Adam Griffith nailed a 47-yard field goal and Cyrus Jones took another punt into the end zone.
“I’m really, really proud of our team,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I think last year when we came to this game, we were happy just to take part in the game. I think this year we wanted to sort of take the game. And really thought our guys had a vision of what they wanted and everybody paid the price for what they had to do in preparation. And there was no circumstance in that game out there today that changed anybody’s feeling about how they wanted to compete and how they wanted to play.”
Jones didn’t say much to the media during availability the week leading up to the 2015 Cotton Bowl. Instead, he let his play say everything for him.
In the third quarter, Jones took a punt back 57 yards for a score after putting a move on a Michigan State defender.
“It was something I grew up doing,” Jones said. “My favorite player growing up was Tavon Austin, a guy I grew up watching in Baltimore, just really explosive with the ball. He had moves similar. And I kind of patented my game after him growing up. And that was moves I get from him. So you can credit him with those.”
Jones’ 57-yard punt return for a touchdown was the fifth-longest punt return for a touchdown in Cotton Bowl history. He owns the program record for most punt returns for a touchdown in a season with four.
On defense, he intercepted what would’ve been a touchdown late in the second quarter as the defense shut out the Spartans.
For his efforts, he was named the defensive MVP of the game.
The game started as everything it was hyped to be: a defensive slugfest. The first quarter was scoreless as neither team could get much going.
Then, Jake Coker found his stride, Calvin Ridley continued to make big plays and Derrick Henry finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. A 47-yard field goal later put Alabama up 10-0 before the half.
In the second half, Alabama started with the ball and put up 21 in the third quarter. Ridley had two touchdowns, sandwiching Jones’ punt return score. The freshman wide receiver broke Amari Cooper’s single-season record for receiving yards with 1,031. He had 138 yards on eight receptions.
Henry put the game completely out of reach with his 25th rushing touchdown of the season, an 11-yard run in the fourth quarter. The Heisman Trophy winner eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing for the season (2,061) and broke the SEC record for rushing touchdowns.
“Make no mistake, this is still a defensive team,” Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said. “This is a defensive mentality team. Fortunately, we made some plays to make the score like this, but at the end of the day, we shut out a pretty good team.”
The Crimson Tide held Michigan State to 239 total yards, including 29 yards rushing. The defense sacked Spartans quarterback Connor Cook four times bringing the season total to 50.
The Spartans had one trip into the red zone which was capped by an interception, one of two the defense nabbed.
Alabama (13-1) will face No. 1 Clemson (14-0) in the CFP Final on Jan. 11 in Arizona.
Source:: The Crimson White Sports