Bama got what it needed

Alabama got several things it needed Saturday, the number one thing being a victory. Although it didn't come easily, the Crimson Tide celebrated homecoming with a 17-3 win over Southern Mississippi, and redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Avalos went the distance for Bama.

The win improved Alabama's record to 3-4. Alabama, 1-2 in Southeastern Conference play, returns to SEC competition next Saturday at Oxford against Mississippi. Kickoff will be at 11:30 a.m. CDT with regional television coverage by Jefferson-Pilot.

With Bama's top two quarterbacks out with shoulder injuries, Brandon Avalos, who saw his first college playing time last week against Georgia, got the job done running a simple and nearly mistake-free offense. Number one quarterback Brodie Croyle was dressed and had been involved in some practice work during the week, but the plan was to not play him. Number two quarterback Spencer Pennington, who started last week's game, is out for about a month.

Although Alabama failed to take advantage of one big opportunity in the kicking game in the fourth quarter, Bama made another break that led to Shaud Williams' second touchdown of the game and some breathing room for the Tide. Chris James blocked a Southern Miss punt and Le'Ron McClain picked up the football and ran it down to the one. Williams took it over for the 17-3 lead with 8:37 to play to play.

A few minutes earlier the Golden Eagles' punter had muffed the snap, giving Bama the ball at Southern Miss' 23-yard line. However, Bama failed to get a first down and then missed a 36-yard field goal.

Alabama led the entire game after Williams broke free on a 44-yard touchdown run as Southern Miss bunched up the middle trying to stop a third-and-one try. When Williams made it through the hole, he had clear sailing to the end zone.

Brian Bostick kicked a 23-yard field goal to give Bama a 10-0 lead with only three minutes to play in the first half. However, the defense had trouble against the Golden Eagles' two-minute drill and Southern Miss' Darren Mccaleb kicked a 27-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to make it 10-3 at intermission.

Tide Head Coach Mike Shula called it "a total team effort. The defense was able to get them stopped and get off the field. The special teams made some plays – not just playing even. And the offense was able to run the ball."

Shula said that Avalos had gotten most of the practice time during the week. He said Croyle is better and "we're taking it day-to-day. He got some rest. Hopefully, he'll be ready next week."

Shula said that Alabama cut its playbook down to "about 60 per cent" during the week and then didn't call that much during the game. "It probably looked like we had about 10 per cent of the playbook in," Shula said.

Avalos threw only seven passes and completed three of them for a paltry 12 yards. Although he suffered an interception, it was a meaningless turnover in the final few moments of the game.

Williams had 28 rushes for 178 yards, while Ray Hudson ran 18 times for 76 yards to account for almost all of the Alabama offense.

Alabama had only 12 first downs and all 12 were rushing first downs. Southern Miss did most of its damage by air, getting 16 first downs, 13 passing, two rushing and one by penalty. The Tide had 50 carries for 243 rushing yards. The Golden Eagles had 35 rushes for only 17 net yards, but completed 22 of 37 passes for 244 yards with no interceptions.

Alabama had 57 plays for 255 yards, an average of 4.5 yards per play, while Southern Miss had 72 plays for 261 yards, 3.6 per play. Although Southern Miss had 15 more plays, Alabama had a slight advantage in time of possession, 30:40 to 29:20.

Neither team was penalized much, but Southern Miss had a very costly one. After Alabama's last touchdown the Golden Eagles appeared to have a 100-yard runback by John Eubanks, but a clipping penalty nullified the touchdown. Southern Miss was flagged three times for 30 yards, Alabama twice for 20 yards. One of the penalties against Bama was a roughing the passer call that was instrumental in the Golden Eagles' field goal drive.

The Tide recovered two USM fumbles, both in the fourth quarter. The first came when Jeremy Clark forced the fumble and Carlos Andrews recovered at the Alabama 19-yard line. Freddie Roach caused a fumble that was recovered by Charlie Peprah with just nine seconds remaining in the game.

DeMeco Ryans continued his strong play at linebacker with 11 primary tackles, two assists, and two sacks for 11 yards in losses. Alabama turned in five sacks while Avalos was not trapped. Roach was in on nine tackles, Charles Jones eight, and Juwan Garth and Jeremy Clark seven each.

Shula said he did not want the good work of punter Bo Freelend to go unnoticed. He said that Freelend had a good week of practice and made it pay off with a good day. Freelend punted six times and averaged 45.8 yards per punt with a long of 55. He punted for 275 yards and Southern Miss returned three for 15 total yards, which, Shula pointed out, was instrumental in Alabama having good field position much of the day.

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