Rebels embarrass Bama

It is a measure of how troubled the Alabama football program is when the Crimson Tide is thoroughly out-played by Mississippi. That was the situation Saturday in Oxford as Mississippi took a 43-28 win in a game that was not as close as the final score.

Bama scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes of the game. However, that could not begin to overcome the horrible Tide start that saw Mississippi take a 24-0 first quarter lead and coast to victory. As an exclamation point to Alabama's poor execution, the Tide botched a shotgun snap exchange in the end zone with 1:19 remaining in the game, giving the Rebels a safety for the final points.

The loss dropped Alabama to 3-5 overall and 1-4 in Southeastern Conference play. Things do not get easier as Alabama must play a Tennessee team that has lost two straight games, but which had an open date to prepare for the Tide. Bama will host the Vols in Bryant-Denny Stadium at 2:30 p.m. CDT next Saturday. CBS will televise the game.

Mississippi made dozens of big plays, but it may be the most significant play in the game was one Alabama didn't make. It could be considered a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of a game against a team like Mississippi, which includes a superstar quarterback. The only way that quarterback – the Rebels' Eli Manning – can be effective is for his team to have the football. Trailing 10-0 in the first quarter, Alabama faced fourth and one at the Mississippi 44. Rather than gamble for the first down, Alabama kicked the ball back to the Rebels. It took Manning only five plays to take Mississippi 80 yards to a 17-0 lead.

Alabama made the decision to defend Mississippi's third-and-long plays with a nickel back, taking out a potential rusher. Manning, with plenty of time to throw, picked that defense apart. Bama might still considered to have been in the game trailing 24-10 late in the first half and the Rebels at the Alabama 41-yard line. The rush missed Manning, who stepped up and threw a strike in the end zone to Kerry Johnson, who had escaped from Bama's nickel back. Alabama had only one sack in the game, an insignificant trap in the fourth quarter.

Alabama sophomore quarterback Brodie Croyle, making his return to starting status after having missed all but a couple of plays the past two weeks, showed no ill effects from his left shoulder injury, but did show a little rust. On his first pass of the day he was intercepted, setting up the Rebels at Bama's 23 and an easy Manning touchdown pass to a 10-0 lead. Mississippi would extend the margin to 24-0 before the end of the first quarter with a short touchdown drive after a long punt return.

Croyle directed two fourth quarter touchdowns that made the game mildly interesting, although there was never doubt about the outcome by the time of that Tide rally. He connected with Ray Hudson on a 22-yard touchdown with 4:47 to play and passed five yards to Shaud Williams for Bama's final score with 2:33 remaining

Alabama had a great deal of trouble with the kicking game in addition to the poor coverage that set up the Rebels' third touchdown of the first quarter. The game opened with Alabama kicking out of bounds. Alabama's kickoff returns – of which there were many – were often botched by either poor blocking and running and/or by penalties. And Alabama muffed an extra point kick, which would later force two-point conversion tries, neither of which was successful.

On the other hand, Bama scored a touchdown when Chris James blocked a punt and picked the ball up, returning it 32 yards. And after the Tide scored a consolation touchdown with just under five minutes to play, a perfect onsides kick – Kyle Robinson kicking and Thurman Ward making the catch of the bounding ball along the sidelines – led to a final Tide score with under three minutes to play. And Bo Freelend continued his good punting, tying an Alabama record by averaging 52.4 yards on five kicks. Greg Gantt and Chris Mohr also averaged 52.4 on at least five punts. Freelend had a career best 59-yarder among his efforts.

A couple of penalties helped Alabama get on the board. First the Rebels had to kick off from their 20 after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following the touchdown that led to the 24-0 first quarter lead. Then Croyle was bumped after he had made the quarterback slide, an automatic 15-yard penalty. Ray Hudson and Shaud Williams shared rushing duties with Williams getting the three-yard touchdown run.

Bama had a chance to make a game of it late in the second quarter. Trailing 24-7 Bam had a first and goal at the Mississippi six, but the Tide had to settle for a 32-yard Brian Bostick field goal.

After trailing 31-10 at the half, Alabama made exactly the wrong statement to start the second half. Starting with the ball, Alabama had three incomplete passes. Following a punt, the Rebels drove 88 yards i8n 12 plays to a Manning scramble for a touchdown and 38-10 lead.

One of the big play men for the Rebels was Ratavious Biddle of Decatur, a sophomore who turned down a scholarship offer from the Tide. Biddle had two touchdown receptions. .

As has been the case in a number of games this year, the Alabama offense could not maintain possession and the Crimson Tide defense could not get the opposition stopped. Alabama ran 59 plays and the Rebels had the ball for 72 plays. Bama had total offense of 364 yards, while Mississippi had 446 total yards. Both teams averaged 6.2 yards per play. Alabama was successful on only three of its nine third down opportunities, while Mississippi made nine of 16 chances. (Through the first three quarters, before the outcome was no longer in doubt, Alabama had made only one of six third down conversions, while the Rebels had made nine of 13.) Mississippi had a slight advantage in time of possession, 31:18 to 28:42.

To be sure, Manning was the key for the Rebels. He completed 14 of 22 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns. But Mississippi also had an excellent running attack, shredding the Bama defense for 216 yards on 50 carries.

Croyle was good on 21 of 29 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns, but had two interceptions. Bama had 30 rushes for 116 yards. Shaud Williams had 18 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown, but also had a critical fumble when Bama was trying to get back in the game in the third quarter. Kenneth Darby, making his first appearance in weeks, had just run for 41 yards to deep into Mississippi territory with the Tide trailing 38-16 when Williams fumbled.

Four Alabama receivers had three receptions each – Dre Fulgham for 53 yards, Lance Taylor for 36, Tyrone Prothro for 29, and Tim Castille for 17. Nine receivers caught Croyle passes.

Mississippi had 23 first downs to Alabama's 21. Mississippi did not have any turnovers, while Alabama lost a fumble and suffered two interceptions. Alabama was penalized seven times for 66 yards, Mississippi 10 times for 93 yards.

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