Sure it's early, but after the Southeastern Conference opener at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night, Alabama had a 28-7 win over Ole Miss. And after two years of ineligibility for the SEC title (and, therefore, not ranked), Alabama sits atop the SEC Western Division (with Auburn).
Bama improved its record to 2-0, while the Rebels–a year after a nice 10-2 run with Eli Manning at quarterback–fell to 0-2. The last of the extraordinary quarterbacking Mannings has taken his considerable skills to the NFL.
Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula said he was pleased to see his team go out and take control of the game. He said, "It was a good win. Our guys fought hard. We knew it was going to be a physical game. I'm happy the way our defense played. They really set the tempo."
Shula said, "Our players were focused for the game. That's what we asked them to do. Now we've got to work to consistently get better."
Alabama willl have its third straight home night game next Saturday when the Crimson Tide hosts Western Carolina. Kickoff at Bryant-Denny Stadium will be at 6 p.m. CDT with Pay Per View television coverage.
Alabama built a 14-0 lead in the second quarter because the Crimson Tide was able to survive its blunders, while Ole Miss was its own worst enemy. Bama gave up field position, but no points, with two first quarter fumbles–one by halfback Ray Hudson on a run, one by kick return specialist Brandon Brooks, trying to field a bouncing punt. But the Rebels got no scores.
An encouraging sign for Alabama in the early going was Bama's control of the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense.
After a second quarter Cody Ridgeway punt stuck Alabama deep in its own territory at the two, a combination of good Bama play and penalties against Mississippi led to a 7-0 lead. Alabama was able to go 98 yards in 10 plays with Tim Castille taking it in from a yard out with 9:15 to play before intermission. Brian Bostick kicked the extra point. The Tide drive was helped by a third down roughing the passer penalty against the Rebels. Later in the drive a facemask call against the visitors set Bama up at the Ole Miss 10. And from there a pass interference call in the end zone made it first and goal from the two for Alabama.
On Mississippi's next possession, the Rebels faced third and five and Alabama brought an all-out blitz. Safety Roman Harper got to Ole Miss quarterback Michael Spurlock and forced a fumble that was recovered by Juwan Garth. Although a holding call against the Tide made it first and goal at the 15, a perfect Brodie Croyle pass and a fine Tyrone Prothro catch got the touchdownwith 7:50 to play before intermission.
Bama increased its lead to 21-0 in the third quarter with a seven-play, 66-yard drive that featured a 35-yard run by back-up halfback Kenneth Darby. Darby had been out of action since early in the game and there was some suspicion he had suffered a shoulder injury. His run set up a 13-yard Croyle to Ray Hudson touchdown pass. Hudson took the swing pass and blasted into the end zone.
The touchdown pass was Croyle's 25th in his Alabama career, tying him for ninth place on the all-time Bama list with Joe Namath.
Mississippi made a change in quarterback midway through the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter Ethan Flatt broke up the Bama shutout with a six-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eric Rice. The drive had been kept alive by a controversial pass interference call against Alabama on a fourth down play.
Bama's offense responded smartly. After starting in a hole at the Alabama 15 because of a penalty on the ensuing kickoff, the Tide took just five plays to go 85 yards. Croyle and Hudson combined on an improvised whoopee pass to keep the drive going, and then Hudson went 46 yards for a touchdown and a 28-7 lead.
Alabama was inside the Mississippi five-yard line in the final moments of the game, but Croyle took a couple of intentional losses to let the clock run out rather than run it up on the Rebels.
Mississippi had defeated Alabama, 43-28, in Oxford last year. However, Bama has dominated this series, holding a 42-9-2 advantage after Saturday night. And the Rebels have never put back-to-back wins together against Alabama. Mississippi's only win over Alabama in the state of Alabama came in 1988, a 22-12 decision.
Croyle said, "We got embarrassed last year, and tonight we came with a vengeance. Our defense played great. We started slow, but then we picked it up. This was a huge win for us tonight."
Harper, who had a Tide-leading 11 tackles and broke up two passes in addition to his caused fumble, said, "We knew we had to come out and hit them hard. We worked hard for this one. It was a big win for us. It gives us a great start in the SEC."
As would be expected, Alabama dominated statistically. The Tide had 22 first downs (11 rushing, eight passing, three by penalty) to only nine for Ole Miss. Bama had 47 rushes for 221 net yards, Mississippi 29 runs for 75 yards. Alabama completed 14 of 22 passes (all by Croyle) for 240 yards, while the Rebels completed 10 of 27 for only 104 yards. Bama had 69 plays for 390 yards, an average of 5.7 yards per play, while the Rebels had 56 plays for 192 yards, an average of 3.4 yards per play. There were no interceptions in the game. Bama lost its two fumbles, while the Rebels lost one of three. Alabama was penalized only five times for only 46 yards, while Mississippi was flagged nine times for 73 yards.
Offensively, Hudson rushed 14 times for 116 yards, Darby had 17 runs for 86 yards, and Tim Castille, who played both halfback and fullback, had 11 carries for 26 yards. Hudson had four receptions for 34 yards, Brown three catches for 35 yards, Matt Caddell two for 40, and Clint Johnston two for 29. Bo Freelend punted five times for a 43.6 yard average.
Alabama is now 46-20-2 in SEC opening games. Bama has now won 13 consecutive SEC openers, dating back to 1992. Of course, Alabama opened SEC play in 10 of those seasons against Vanderbilt.
Although he had played in 37 previous Alabama games, senior halfback Ray Hudson got his first Crimson Tide start Saturday night. He was joined by two other first time starters, and–like Hudson–Florida natives. But both are freshmen wide receivers, D.J. Hall and Keith Brown. They became the first true freshmen to start at wide receiver for Alabama since Ozzie Newsome