TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s defense gained a measure of redemption.
The seventh-ranked Crimson Tide didn’t suddenly go back to dominating games or overpowering opposing defenses after finally losing a game, but the defense was aggressive and the passing game just effective enough.
The result was a workmanlike 23-10 victory over Mississippi on Saturday night.
The Tide’s defense set the tone early by swarming Jeremiah Masoli & Co. a week after getting lit up for 35 points by South Carolina. Alabama (6-1, 3-1 SEC) allowed only 7 yards on the first three Ole Miss drives and 41 yards in the opening half.
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“I’m really excited by how our defense played,” Alabama tight end Preston Dial said. “They carried us.”
For ‘Bama fans fearing a letdown, it was likely the most encouraging sign of the game. The Tide had given up 315 yards passing against the Gamecocks a week earlier to help send a 19-game win streak crashing to a halt.
Ole Miss (3-2, 1-2) didn’t score a touchdown until late in the third quarter and the team’s only first-half points came on a field goal set up by a fumbled punt return.
Alabama’s defense logged 10 hurries against Masoli, broke up six passes and had six tackles for loss with a pair of sacks. Brandon Bolden, the SEC’s No. 3 rusher coming in, managed just 32 yards on 10 carries.
Masoli was held to 18 of 40 passing for 110 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also rushed for 40 yards, much of it coming on a late 26-yarder that set up the lone touchdown and the game’s final score.
A few minutes earlier, Alabama’s Trent Richardson had taken a screen pass 85 yards for a touchdown to supply a more comfortable margin.
It was one of few big breakdowns for the Ole Miss defense.
“The defense came up big at times,” Rebels coach Houston Nutt said. “They kept excellent pursuit and excellent swarming. We’ve talked about gang-tackling. You can’t tackle (Mark) Ingram, a Heisman Trophy winner, and Trent Richardson. You can’t tackle them one-on-one.
“You’ve got to get your people there. You’ve got to gather around the football in gangs, and our guys did that. They chased the ball extremely hard.”
The Rebels employed the same formula the Gamecocks did in containing Richardson and Ingram and forcing quarterback Greg McElroy to win in the air. It mostly worked.
The two backs combined for 105 yards rushing. McElroy passed for 219 yards and two touchdowns, but he was sacked four times a week after going down in the backfield seven times.
“We’ve actually struggled against these guys for three years in a row offensively,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “They pretty much take the run away from you and make it difficult to run.
“You have got to execute in the passing game. At times we did, and at times we didn’t.”
Ole Miss mistakes helped out abundantly. Alabama’s first drive covered a plodding 46 yards on 11 plays and initially stalled, but the Rebels were flagged for roughing the kicker — one of 12 penalties. And McElroy responded with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Preston Dial.
By contrast, Alabama’s defense held firm when the Rebels took over at Alabama’s 21 after a fumble by return man Marquis Maze. Ole Miss converted a fourth-and-1 but still had to settle for a short Bryson Rose field goal.
Tide defensive end Marcell Dareus, who played with a gimpy left ankle, thinks the defensive performance was a start — but that’s about it.
“To me, I do not really think we are quite there,” Dareus said.
“We have a lot of room for improvement.
Richardson’s take was a little more positive.
“We needed a game like this,” said Richardson. “We had a minor setback, and we needed to come back big after the loss.”