Stops SEC’s highest scoring offense
By MICHAEL CASAGRANDE
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Facing an unfamiliar situation, Alabama turned to an old friend.
Playing a week after a loss for the first time since 2007, the Crimson Tide dusted off its defense just when it faced its greatest questions.
No, there wasn’t much bend in the Alabama front on homecoming night.
Riding the dependable-again defense and a streaky offense, the Tide turned away Ole Miss 23-10 in a late-night special kicked off at 9:15 p.m. to accommodate ESPN2. By the time it ended, the sold-out crowd thinned considerably, but the fireworks ended well before that.
The Rebels, owners of SEC’s highest scoring offense entering Saturday averaging 37.2 points a game, were held at bay most of the night as the Tide defense rediscovered the fundamentals that failed a week earlier in a two-touchdown loss at South Carolina.
Allowing just one touchdown, after surrendering five a week earlier, Alabama’s defense played a more physical brand than it did a week ago in Columbia.
Offensively, the Tide (6-1, 3-1 SEC) had issues running the ball for the third straight week with the physical Rebel front plugging running lanes for Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The pair ran for 95 yards with the returning Heisman Trophy winner going for 60 yards on 16 carries and Richardson running for 45 on 11 attempts.
And with Julio Jones making just a brief appearance early playing with a broken left hand, it was up to the supporting cast of receivers to fill the void.
But it was a Richardson catch that helped break the game open.
Facing a third-and-13 from its own 15, the sophomore running back caught what appeared to be a harmless screen pass to give punter Cody Mandell some extra room to operate. Richardson had other plans, though.
He darted through would-be tacklers then outran defensive backs for the 85-yard touchdown reception that put the Tide up 23-3 midway through the third quarter.
Other than that, Alabama’s offense was hit or miss.
Quarterback Greg McElroy put up respectable numbers with 17 completions in 25 attempts for 219 yards. Sacks, though, were a carryover issue from the South Carolina game.
The Tide quarterback was taken down four times behind the line after taking seven sacks against the Gamecocks. He threw successfully to eight different receivers, but the Alabama offense lacked rhythm most of the night.
But the story was Alabama’s handling of Rebel quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, the transfer from Oregon who was starting to hit his stride with Ole Miss.
It quickly became clear Saturday night that he wasn’t going to be the star of the show. Alabama limited the Rebel offense to seven yards combined in its first three possessions that all ended in punts.
By halftime, Masoli had completed just 3-of-12 passes for 14 yards and ran six times for negative-3 yards.
Ole Miss, though, found some footing in the second half. It marched 74 plays in 10 plays in a drive that had shades of a crucial third-quarter drive Alabama surrendered a week ago at South Carolina. The Rebels (3-3, 1-2 SEC) converted three third-downs including the third-and-7 touchdown pass from Masoli to Melvin Harris with 4:40 to play in the third to cut the lead to 13 points.
Masoli finished with 17 completions in 39 attempts for 102 yards and 38 rushing yards on 10 carries. He was sacked twice and pressured on 10 other occasions by the defense led by Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick who had seven tackles apiece. Barron added a fourth-quarter interception to top off his night.