Alabama got an unlikely 85-yard touchdown play on a short pass and withstood an Ole Miss team that improved in the second half for a 23-10 homecoming victory over Ole Miss at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night.
Alabama, ranked eighth in the nation going into the game, improved to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in Southeastern Conference games. The Rebels fell to 3-3 overall and 1-2 in league games.
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Prior to the completion of Alabama’s late Saturday game, the rankings had some upsets with number one Ohio State losing to Wisconsin and number five Nebraska losing to Texas, opening the door for a Bama move up in the polls.
The big play in the game came for the Tide in the third quarter when an inconsistent Bama offense faced third-and-13 at its own 15. Greg McElroy threw a short pass to Trent Richardson, and Richardson turned it into an 85-yard touchdown, the longest passing play in McElroy’s career. That gave Bama a 23-3 lead.
The Tide had opened up a 13-0 lead in the first half and had that 13-point margin at 16-3 at halftime.
Alabama will be in Knoxville next Saturday to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee, which had a bye week this weekend, and the Crimson Tide will kick off at 7 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. central time) with television coverage by ESPN. Tennessee is 2-4 overall and 0-3 in SEC games.
McElroy had two touchdown passes and Cade Foster had two long field goals in the victory.
Alabama’s defense was more impressive than its offense. Other than one long touchdown drive, the Bama defense kept the dangerous option quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and hard-running tailback Brandon Bolden in check.
Masoli completed only 18 of 40 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown and had one pass intercepted. He had 10 runs for a net of 40 yards. Bolden had 10 carries for 32 yards and the Bama defense extended its string of not allowing an opposing player to rush for 100 or more yards to 41 games and three years. The last player to do so was BenJarvus Green-Ellis of Ole Miss on October 15, 2007, who had 131.
With Ole Miss forced to resort to the passing game, it was not a surprise that Bama defensive backs were the leading tacklers. Dre Kirkpatrick had seven solo stops, Mark Barron five primary tackles and two assists, and DeQuan Menzie four primary stops and one assist. Safety Robert Lester and linebackers C.J. Mosley and linebacker Dont’a Hightower were all involved in five tackles.
Although he had a fumble that led to a Rebels field goal, Marquis Maze had six punt returns for 125 yards as Julio Jones, the wide receiver who had been handling punt returns, was limited in his participation. Indeed, Jones, who suffered a broken hand last week, was held out of second half play.
Alabama drew first blood with a start-and-stop drive that ended with Greg McElroy completing a seven-yard pass to Preston Dial in the back of the end zone. It was actually Bama’s second score on the drive. When it appeared the march had stopped at the 20 with McElroy throwing three consecutive incomplete passes, Jeremy Shelley kicked a 37-yard field goal. But Shelley was roughed on the play and Bama took the points off the board to try for the touchdown and got it on a third-and-goal play. Shelley kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead. The drive started with Marquis Maze making a 20-yard punt return to set the Tide up at the Mississippi 46. McElroy and Mark Ingram had nine-yard runs in the 11-play drive.
Alabama’s offense was struggling, but the Tide defense was keeping heralded Ole Miss offensive stars, quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and tailback Brandon Bolden in check (the Rebels didn’t make a first down until the final play of the first quarter).
The Tide stretched its lead to 10-0 with Maze starting things with a nice punt return of 12 yards to the Alabama 43. McElroy hit Julio Jones with a pass that Jones turned into a clutch first down and Trent Richardson ran for 12 yards for a first down to the Rebels 34. Then Richardson was dropped for a five-yard loss, Julio dropped a pass, and a McElroy to Richardson pass came up short of the first down. Cade Foster was called on for the “long” field goal and nailed the 49-yard effort. Alabama had a 10-0 lead with 58 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Bama punter Cody Mandell put the Rebels in a hole with a 50-yard punt that rolled dead at the Ole Miss 5. Four plays later the Rebels excellent punter, Tyler Campbell, punted to Maze at the Bama 47. Maze got an excellent block from Alex Watkins and went 37 yards to the Ole Miss 16. A personal foul on the Rebels at the end of the play made it first and goal Bama at the Mississippi 8.
But runs by Richardson and McElroy gained a yard each and a pass to Richardson left the ball at the two-yard line. With 5:32 left in the second quarter, Shelley kicked a 19-yard field goal and Alabama had a 13-0 lead.
Maze didn’t seem to have made a mistake when he returned a punt from his five-yard line out past the 20 midway through the second quarter, but he took a hard hit and fumbled the ball to the Rebels at the Alabama 21.
Two plays by the Rebels failed to gain, and then a scrambling Masoli hit a pass to just short of the first down. Bolden went over the middle for the Rebels second first down of the game with 3:07 left in the second quarter. It was first and goal at the Bama 9.
Three plays gained four yards, and on fourth down the Rebels got on the board. With 1:28 left in the first half, Bryson Rose kicked a 22-yard field goal to close the Bama lead to 13-3.
Although Alabama had a ragged sort of two-minute drive, it was successful in getting points. Alabama got a few yards from Ingram, and then a facemask put it at the Alabama 43. McElroy completed a 15-yard pass to Maze for a first down at the Ole Miss 28. And there the drive bogged down with a sack, an incomplete pass, and a pass to Ingram that gained just four yards. With four seconds remaining in the first half, Foster kicked a 44-yard field goal and Bama had a 16-3 halftime lead.
Alabama’s second half offensive performance started poorly. The Tide got nine yards on its first play on an Ingram run, but then tried a McElroy run that lost a yard, and Ingram lost two more. After an exchange of punts, the Tide was starting at its 18 yard line.
Again, it looked poor. Richardson got a couple, but then McElroy was sacked for a loss of five. On third and 13 from the 15, McElroy threw a short pass to Richardson. The fleet tailback got by a couple of potential tacklers, then raced down the sideline in front of the Alabama bench, an 85-yard touchdown play. When Shelley kicked the extra point with 7:22 remaining in the third quarter, Alabama had a 23-3 lead.
Alabama finally got a taste of the dreaded Ole Miss option offense and the ability of the Rebels quarterback, Masoli, in the ensuing drive. The Rebels drove 71 yards in 10 plays and finished with Masoli hitting 6-7 wide receiver Melvin Harris for a 15-yard touchdown. Rose kicked the final point of the game.
Alabama had one last scoring chance after Mark Barron made an interception on a tipped pass in the final moments. The Tide went to a wildcat offense, didn’t move the ball, and Shelley missed a 42-yard field goal.