Alabama offense gets job done
By Michael Casagrande
OXFORD, Miss. — There were not bottles, batteries or any other projectiles in the cool Mississippi air.
Just a few Alabama index fingers saluted the mostly Crimson Tide fans who remained in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium as the sun set on the fall-like Saturday evening. Two years after being pelted with trash from the Ole Miss students, the Tide didn’t give them a reason to see the end of this season’s meeting.
The 22-3 win was secure early as it solidified third-ranked Alabama’s spot atop the SEC West on a day when the offense had trouble finishing while the defense deflated what started as a stadium-record crowd.
After jogging toward the largest clump of Tide fans who remained afterward for a final thank-you wave, Alabama coach Nick Saban jumped on the opportunity to praise his defense.
“That’s about as fine of a defensive performance in a first half that I’ve been around in a while,” he said.
Allowing 19 yards, one first down and zero trips past midfield more than qualified. The Tide (6-0, 3-0 SEC West) saw its pass rush pester Rebel quarterback Jevan Snead into a 2-for-12 half that included a pair of interceptions and led to a shower of boos from the Rebel faithful.
Failure by the Alabama offense to convert inside the red zone was all that separated a comfortable win from a blowout. Five visits inside the Rebel 20 yielded zero touchdowns and five field goals. But with a defense that kept what was a preseason top-10 team out of the end zone, the 3-pointers sufficed.
The game’s only touchdown served as an early knockout punch.
Mark Ingram, who ran for a career-high 172 yards on 28 carries, took his longest run 36 yards around the left side of his defense on a fourth-down play late in the second quarter. It was a speed sweep that offensive coordinator Jim McElwain had in its back pocket, saving for the perfect time.
Ingram ran untouched after rushing from the huddle to the line and leaving the defense unsettled.
“I didn’t even have to do anything,” he said. “All I had to do is run. The line and the receivers did a great job blocking. I didn’t have to do anything. I just ran.”
The touchdown put Alabama up 16-0 at halftime when combined with the three Tiffin field goals.
Swiping five total turnovers while surrendering just one was another major factor for a second straight week. Perhaps none was bigger than a Kareem Jackson interception early in the fourth quarter that deflated any hope of a comeback.
With Ole Miss at the Alabama 15, Jackson stepped in front of a Snead pass at the 5 and returned it 79 yards taking the air out of a re-energized crowd. Tide running back Trent Richardson gave the ball right back on a fumble, but the 81-yard swing left Ole Miss fighting back up hill trailing by 19.
The Rebels solved some of its offensive issues in the second half with short passes to the running backs and unplanned quarterback runs. They improved the yardage totals by 193 yards, but points never came and their SEC title hopes all but vanished in a second league loss.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt acknowledged Snead’s struggles in the 11-for-34 day, but said his quarterback wasn’t to blame for all four interceptions.
“This is the fastest defense if you went from 1-11,” Nutt said. “From corners to safeties to linebackers to defensive linemen, this is the best I’ve seen.”
McElroy lauds defense
Tide quarterback Greg McElroy said he was taking the whole starting defense out to dinner in thanks for saving the offense. McElroy completed 15-of-34 throws for 147 yards while operating under the most pressure he’s seen all season.
Avoiding the turnover was the biggest accomplishment, he said.
“I think I played my worst game of the year up to this point,” he said. “But zero interceptions, zero fumbles that were lost, you’ve got to be proud about that.”