Darby, who moved into the starting lineup this week because first team halfback Ray Hudson was lost for the season with a knee injury against Kentucky last week, set an Alabama record for yards rushing by a first-time starter. He had 29 carries for 197 yards before giving way to true freshman Aaron Johns. He scored two touchdowns, one rushing and one on a pass reception.
Alabama's defense set up short touchdowns with a fumble recovery and an interception, and kept the Golden Eagles in poor field position most of the day.
Alabama is now 5-2 on the season and thus tops last season's win total in a 4-9 season.Bama, which is 2-2 in Southeastern Conference games, returns to SEC action next Saturday at Tennessee. Kickoff time will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT (3:30 eastern) with television coverage by CBS. Alabama needs at least one victory in its final four games to be bowl eligible and return to post-season play after a two-year absence owing to NCAA sanctions. Bama's last trip to Knoxville resulted in a 34-14 Alabama victory.
Southern Miss, which came into the game undefeated and ranked 24th in the nation, is now 4-1.
Alabama Coach Mike Shula said, "I thought our team played physical football. It started with our defense. They just did a nice job all day running to the football. Offensively, I thought we were moving the ball pretty well, moving it on the ground. The offensive line has done a nice job. I can't say enough about Ken Darby and what he did. It was his opportunity."
Although Kenneth Darby is only a sophomore and was making his first start, he showed veteran savvy in the post-game interviews. Questioned about the near-miss for 200 yards, Darby said he was happy anytime he got over 100 yards. And, he added, it isn't hard to get a lot of yards rushing "when you've got an offensive line like ours opening up holes."
Darby, who had a long run of 31 yards, had the 13th best rushing total of any Bama back in history. Although he was thrust into the starting role by an injury to Hudson, his good running should not be considered a surprise. Although Hudson was second in the SEC and 21st nationally in rushing with 106.3 yards per game, Darby came into Saturday's contest ranked 10th in the SEC (and 76th in the nation) averaging 72,8 yards per game.
Darby is now averaging 90.6 yards per carry, which could put him in the top five in the conference this week.
Darby said that Hudson was on his mind. "I even wrote his number on my wristband," Darby said. "He called me before the game and told me to do good, what I've been doing, nothing extraordinary."
Southern Miss's star linebacker, Michael Boley of Athens, called Darby "a good back. He's a good slasher and a power runner. He is one of those you hate to play against."
In addition to Darby, Tim Castille had 12 carries for 47 yards and Aaron Johns six runs for 21 yards.
Shula said that while he was pleased to have a 13-3 halftime lead, "it felt like we were beating ourselves with a lot of penalties. We addressed it at halftime and we'll address it again tomorrow. We're having too many costly penalties that are going to hurt us if they continue."
A turnover put Alabama in control of the scoreboard early in the first quarter. After Brian Bostick had kicked a 45-yard field goal to give Bama a 3-0 lead, the Tide defense set up a short touchdown opportunity. Freddie Roach made a hit on the pass receiver on a screen pass and Mark Anderson recovered for the Tide at the Southern Mississippi three-yard line. Bama went to its big backfield of Tim Castille at halfback behind Le'Ron McClain at fullback and in two runs Castille got it in for a 10-0 Tide lead.
Southern Miss cut the lead to 10-3 with a 37-yard field goal by Darren McCaleb early in the second quarter, but the Tide got those points back when Bostick hit a 37-yarder with a minute to play before intermission.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Alabama made an excellent call. Facing third-and-five at the Southern Miss 12, quarterback Spencer Pennington surprised the Golden Eagles with a whoopee pass to Darby, who took it to the end zone for a 20-3 Alabama lead. The score capped a 10-play, 86-yard drive that consumed almost six minutes of clock. The big play in the drive was tyrone Prothro making an excellent catch in coverage of a Pennington pass for 35 yards to the USM 17.
Another defensive play set up Bama's final score. Charlie Peprah picked off a Southern Miss pass and returned it 31 yards to the Southern Miss 10-yard line. On first down Darby finished his day with a burst up the middle for the score and a final score of 27-3.
Although there was nothing so dramatic as Bo Freelend's run from punt formation against Kentucky last week, there were some interesting things in the kicking game. There was something of a role reversal in the kicking game in the fourth quarter. Bostick, who has been very, very good on field goals, just missed on a 45-yard effort. A few minutes later, Bandon Brooks, who has been shaky as a punt return man, had a 39-yard runback. The fourth quarter also gave back-up punter Jeremy Schatz his first opportunity of the year, and he punted 40 yards to inside the Eagles' five-yard line as the game was winding down. In pre-game warm-ups, freshman walk-on placekicker C.J. Rhody put on a show. Rhody, who showed up this year having just undergone foot surgery, has been kicking in practice for a couple of weeks and has caught Coach Mike Shula's eye. Saturday he was routinely kicking field goals of 55 yards. A 57-yard try hit the crossbar.
Alabama came into the game ranked first in the SEC and 13th in the nation in rushing offense with an average of 240.2 yards per game, and improved on that average with 262 yards rushing (on 51 runs) against Southern Mississippi. A statistical oddity was that although Alabama had approximately double the total offense of Southern Miss, Bama had only a 13-12 advantage in first downs. The Golden Eagles had 37 rushes for 148 yards.
Both teams are playing with back-up quarterbacks. For Alabama, Pennington completed only four of nine passes for 72 yards and had one intercepted. But that was an aerial display compared to Southern Miss's Damion Carter, who hit only five of 20 passes for only 16 yards and was intercepted once. Southern Miss had total passing of six-of-23 for 23 yards.
Bama had total offense of 334 yards on 60 plays, 5.6 yards per play. Southern Miss also ran 60 plays and picked up 171 yards, an averaged of 2.8 yards per play.
Southern Miss lost its only fumble. Bama fumbled once on a punt return, but recovered.
In the first half it looked like the teams might combine for a new NCAA record for penalties. At intermission Alabama had been flagged six times for 55 yards and the Golden Eagles had been penalized seven times for 47 yards. And that didn't include some off-setting penalties in which the play was re-run and some penalties that were declined. On one play Bama was charged with at least three separate violations, two of which were declined. But in the second half, the teams received only one 10-yard penalty each, so Alabama ended up with seven penalties for 65 yards and Southern Miss eight penalties for 57 yards.
Alabama had an advantage of nine minutes in time of possession, 34:31-25:29.
A huge difference in the game was in field position. Southern Miss averaged starting at its own 16, while Bama averaged starting at its 41.
Todd Bates led Bama defensively with eight tackles, including two sacks.