Tide defense gets measure of redemption

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.

”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. We need to go in and
get back to the playbooks and watch more film to get rid of the
mistakes we had.

Richardson’s take was a little more positive after a rough
week.

”We needed a game like this,” said Richardson, who had five
catches for 101 yards. ”We had a minor setback, and we needed to
come back big after the loss.”