Tide Tops USM

Conventional thinking was that Southern Miss would have an emotional advantatge to start the game against Alabama. The Golden Eagles had been cooped up in Memphis for a week after having their scheduled opening game postponed. It was Bama that got off to the fast start at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night. But the Crimson Tide had to come from behind to defeat USM, 30-21.

Alabama had a big night statistically, but had to overcome a costly turnover, special teams miscues, and some defensive lapses. The result was that Bama opened up with a 10-0 lead, fell behind by 11 points at 21-10, then shut out the Golden Eagles in the second half while putting up three straight touchdowns in the comeback.

It took Alabama less than a minute to score a touchdown after receiving the opening kickoff. Brodie Croyle hit Tyrone Prothro on a 52-yard bomb on first down. Three plays later, Croyle connected with D.J. Hall on a 26-yard touchdown pass and with 14:04 to play in the first quarter Jamie Christensen kicked the extra point and Alabama had a 7-0 lead.

Croyle, Prothro and Hall all had impressive statistics. Prothro finished with seven receptions for 134 yards, two rushes for 14 yards, four punt returns for 34 yards, and two kickoff returns for 97 yards. That's total yardage of 279. Hall had five catches for 130 yards and a touchdown. Croyle completed 21 of 37 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns.

Alabama, 2-0, has its Southeastern Conference opener and its first road game of the year next Saturday when Bama goes to Columbia to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks of Coach Steve Spurrier. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CDT (3:30 EDT) with national television coverage by CBS. South Carolina played a very good game against Georgia Saturday night, falling to the Bulldogs by 17-15 in Athens.

Alabama extended its lead to 10-0 with 8:53 remaining when Christensen connected on a 33-yard field goal.

The Crimson Tide defense was keeping Southern Miss in check, but Bama's offense and special teams would put the Golden Eagles into the lead at the end of the first quarter.

The Bama running game was almost nonexistent, and Southern Miss got a gift touchdown with an uncharacteristic poor throw by Croyle. Croyle overthrew his receiver and the pass was picked off by the Golden Eagles linebacker Gerald McRath, who returned it 32 yards untouched for a touchdown, cutting the Tide lead to 10-7 with 3:32 remaining in the first quarter.

A poor punt by Jeff Auland much worse punt coverage (Aul had to make the tackle) set the Golden Eagles up to take the lead. Aul's punt carried only 24 yards and was returned 36 yards to the Bama 12. On first down Dustin Almond hit Anthony Perine for the touchdown and a 14-10 lead with 53 seconds to play in the first quarter.

At the end of the first quarter, Southern Miss had more points–14–than yards of total offense–8.

Early in the second quarter, the Alabama defense had its problems with the Golden Eagles, allowing a USM drive of 64 yards in six plays, the final play a 37-yard Almond to Perine connection for a 21-10 Southern Miss lead.

Prothro gave Bama a boost with a 65-yard kickoff return to the USM 35. Croyle hit Hall on a 17-yard gain. But the offense stalled, ending with an eight-yard sack of Croyle and forcing a 41-yard field goal try, which was no good.

Wallace Gilberry saved a touchdown on USM's next possession with a shoestring tackle on Larry Thomas, who was behind everyone after taking a short screen pass. He went to Bama's 49. The Bama defense held and USM got a 15-yared penalty, but field position was lost for the Tide.

Alabama's final possession of the half was a dynamic of fits and starts with penalties the key "plays." A personal foul against Southern Miss sustained the drive when it seemed destined for another quick offensive failure. Then Bama managed to get good gains negated by penalty. All the while center B.J. Closner's snaps to Croyle were tough to handle.

Then on fourth down with 29 seconds remaining from the 43, Bama elected to go for it. Croyle connected with Prothro near the goalline, a play in which USM interferred. The call on the field was touchdown, but for the first known review of an Alabama play in the new SEC policy, the ball was correctly placed at the one yard line with 17 seconds to play. With 12 seconds to play Croyle hit LéRon McClain on the touchdown to close the score to Southern Miss 21, Alabama 17 at halftime. It was officially an 11-play, 72-yard drive that took three minutes.

Alabama regained the lead on its first possession of the second half with Croyle hitting another bomb to highlight the drive. Facing third and 18 from the Bama 32, Croyle hit Hall down the left sideline for a 47-yard gainto the 18. A couple of penalties against the visitors, including an offsides on what appeared to be a third down sack of Croyle, helped Bama to a first down inside the USM five. Tim Castille moved to halfback for the jumbo backfield attack and ran it in on two plays. But on the "routine" extra point, Alabama failed to have seven men on the line of scrimmage. And on the kick after the penalty, Christensen missed, leaving Bama up by only two points at 23-21 with 9:19 left in the third quarter.

Alabama extended its lead with an excellent drive that began in the final seconds of the third quarter. Bama went 85 yards in 11 plays and took 4:20 off the clock. With 11:06 to play, Castille's two-yard run made it 30-21, Bama. A key play was Croyle connecting with Hall on a 24-yard pass play on third-and-17.

Alabama missed a chance to tack on a last score in the final moments when Castille fumbled inside the Southern Miss three-yard line. A final hail Mary by USM was intercepted by Jeffrey Dukes at the Alabama two-yard line with 14 seconds to play.

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