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.”