Tide dominates 2nd half to down USM

Alabama had to overcome some obstacles, including the same sloppy field conditions Southern Mississippi did, and the Crimson Tide turned in a 28-15 win over the Golden Eagles in Birmingham's Legion Field Thursday night.

The victory was Alabama's third in a row and gave the Tide a 6-5 regular season record. That winning record means Alabama is bowl eligible and only the formalities remain before Bama is paired against Boston College in the Music City Bowl in Nashville on December 28. Alabama played in the inaugural Music City Bowl in 1998, losing to Virginia Tech. The bowl is now played in Nashville's Adelphia Stadium.

First-year Bama Coach Dennis Franchione had said that a victory would be important to his team in order to have a winning record, doubling the number of wins by Bama in last year's 3-8 fiasco; avenging a 21-0 loss to Southern Miss last year; earning a bowl bid; and, therefore, having extra practice days over the next month.

Following the game, Franchione forcefully denied again any interest he might have in the head coaching job at Kansas. Although he had dismissed rumors about this a few weeks ago, there was another report citing unnamed sources this week that Franchione might return to his home state.

The Alabama-Southern Miss game had originally been scheduled for September 15, but was postponed due to the terrorist attack on America on September 11.

Heavy rains before and during the game made playing conditions difficult and there were a number of errors by both teams. The kicking game included a handful of bloopers.

The game was the second in a row in which Tyler Watts, Bama's starting quarterback in the first nine games, did not play. Watts has been out with a groin pull suffered in the opening moments of the Mississippi State game. Andrew Zow quarterbacked the Tide to its third straight win and tied the Bama career record for touchdown passes. His two scoring throws gave him 35 for his career, equaling the total compiled by Mike Shula in the 1980s.

Alabama was also without tailback Santonio Beard, who had earned his first start in Bama's previous game against Auburn and run for 199 yards and two touchdowns in that 31-7 romp over the Tigers. Beard was suspended for the game after having been arrested for driving under the influence while home in Nashville for the Thanksgiving holiday. The status for Beard for the bowl game will be announced later. Ironically, Beard was slow starting this year and did not even dress and make the trip to Nashville when Bama played Vanderbilt there earlier this year.

In Beard's absence, Ahmaad Galloway – who has been the Tide's starting tailback and leading rusher most of the year – had his third 100-yard rushing game of the year and second in a row. Galloway, who had joined Beard with 100-plus rushing yards in the win over Auburn, had 24 carries for 126 yards and two touchdowns against the Golden Eagles.

After a scoreless first quarter, one of Southern Miss's two lost fumbles led to the Tide's first touchdown. Jarret Johnson, who had an excellent defensive game, forced a fumble, which was recovered by Darius Gilbert at the Southern Miss 27. Zow found Sam Collins in the end zone on a 14-yard scoring pass. Neal Thomas kicked an extra point, a play that would not be routine this night, and Alabama had a 7-0 lead. Bama would hold the lead throughout the night, but didn't put the game away until the fourth quarter.

Southern Miss answered Bama's short touchdown drive with a very quick five-play, 64-yard march. However, the extra point kick failed when the snap was bobbled.

An unusual play may have kept Alabama from putting the game away in the third quarter. The Tide got a break when Southern Miss was guilty of roughing Tide punter Lane Bearden, keeping a drive alive to start the second half. Bama went 82 yards in 11 plays, the last 40 on a dash up the middle by Galloway. However, the extra point kick try was blocked and returned by Southern Miss for a two-point defensive conversion. That turned the touchdown into only a four-point advantage for the Tide at 13-8. Bama got those two points back a few minutes later when a snap went over the Southern Miss punter's head and he had to knock it out of the end zone for an Alabama safety and a 15-8 lead.

Following Southern Miss's kick after the safety, the Tide was set up at the Southern Miss 45 and took only five plays to get a touchdown. Zow hit Freddie Milons on a 26-yard play, a pass that gave Zow a tie for the Alabama career touchdown record. Thomas did hit this extra point for a 22-8 lead.

Alabama wrapped up the scoring with a 70-yard drive to start the fourth quarter. Although it appeared Zow might have set the touchdown record with a toss to Galloway, it was determined that the pass was backwards, thus making the 11-yard play a run. An extra point kick would have given Alabama a 14-point lead, but there was a misfire on the snap, leaving the score at 28-15. Later in the quarter Alabama faced a fourth and one at the Southern Miss nine-yard line. Rather than go for it, Bama elected to kick a short field goal. However, the 16-yard effort was pulled left,

Although Zow did not have a good night statistically, his seven completions in 19 attempts for 90 yards increased all his Bama records in those categories. He finished just short of 6,000 yards passing with 5,984 yards. Zow almost certainly would have cracked that barrier except that a number of his passes went through the hands of his receivers on the wet night.

Although the Golden Eagles had more first downs (22-16) and more time of possession (33:26 to 26:34), with 73 plays to Alabama's 59, the Tide dominated in rushing yards and had more total offense. Bama had 40 rushes for 241 yards and 311 yards of total offense, averaging 5.3 yards per play. The Golden Eagles averaged only 3.9 yards per play with total offense of 286, primarily because Southern Miss had only 47 net rushing yards.

In addition to Galloway's rushing yardage, Zow had a career best 47 net yards on eight carries. Little-used Ray Hudson, who moved up to second team tailback with the suspension to Beard, had four carries for 35 yards.

Johnson led the Alabama defense. He turned in 10 primary tackles and an assist, and had four tackles for 19 lost yards including a career-high three sacks.

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