Tide Escapes

Alabama may not have looked like the sixth best team in the Southeastern Conference, much less the number six team in the nation. But when Jamie Christensen's 31-yard field goal was true as time expired early Saturday afternoon, Bama had its sixth win of the season.

Alabama struggled through most of the day against Ole Miss, but in the final 2:39 did the things that had to be done. Jamie Christensen's 31-yard field goal as time expired gave Bama a 13-10 win over the Rebels in Oxford.

The winning drive included three successful third down conversions by a Crimson Tide that had been successful on only four of its first 13 third down situations. With the scored tied at 10-10, Alabama forced a punt and took over at its own 24 with 2:39 to play. On the first series, quarterback Brodie Croyle looked to pass on a third and nine. The middle opened up and Croyle scrambled for a 20-yard gain to the Bama 45. After an eight-yard pass to Tim Castille and an incomplete pass, Croyle hit Matt Miller for seven yards and a first down at the Mississippi 40 with 40 seconds to play. An incomplete pass was followed by a shovel pass to Kenneth Darby, who picked up nine yards to the Rebels' 31. After a time out, the Tide surprised Ole Miss with Darby going 17 yards on a draw play to the Mississippi 14.

Alabama called its final time out with three seconds to play. Mississippi then called a time out in hopes of icing Christensen, who had one previous successful field goal kick and one miss in the game.

The Drew Lane snap and Matt Miller hold were good, and Christensen kicked it right down the middle of the uprights.

Alabama is now 6-0 overall and 4-0 in SEC games. The Rebels dropped to 2-4 overall and 0-3 in league games.

Before lthe official signaled Christensen's kick "Good," one could imagine the cancellation lines at Sports Illustrated being overloaded by calls from Alabama. Two weeks ago Bama and Croyle were the toast of the nation, having crushed Florida, 31-3. Croyle was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which proclaimed "Bama Is Back!" And that brought up questions of the supposed "Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx." Alabama Coach Mike Shula discounted it, pointing out that the Tide had an open week to let some other team or individual inherit the jinx.

Alabama continues in Southeastern Conference play next week. The Crimson Tide will host Tennessee at 2:30 p.m. CDT at Bryant-Denny Stadium next Saturday. The game will be nationally televised by CBS. The Vols are 3-2 overall and 2-2 in SEC games. Tennessee had an open date this week.

In the first half, Alabama started as if this was going to be the routine victory almost everyone expected. But after a promising first possession drive went to the Ole Miss six, with a third and one, the Tide could do no right. Two runs got nothing. And the defense was no better, allowing the Ole Miss nickle and dime passing game to drive into Alabama territory time and again.

There was no area of play in which Alabama looked good with the exception of a couple of big plays and the final drive to the win.

Ramzee Robinson, who would have one interception and a nice return in the second quarter, had a couple of opportunities where he couldn't catch the ball. He allowed a ball to bounce off his chest and into the grasp of Taye Biddle. Biddle took it to the Alabama 20 where DeMeco Ryans met him and caused a fumble that was recovered by Charlie Peprah for Alabama. The wacky play continued as that break was squandered when on first down Croyle completed a pass to D.J. Hall, who fumbled it back to the Rebels at the Alabama 26. On third and 11, Michael Spurlock made Bama pay as he completed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Mario Hill. Robert Bass' extra point kick put the Rebels up 7-0.

The Tide offense seemed to respond, driving to the Ole Miss 21 where the drive ended. A pass to Hall was knocked loose, and on the play Hall–expected to be the main Bama receiver after Tyrone Prothro was lost for the season last year–suffered a lower back injury. Adding insult to injury, Christensen missed a 38-yard field goal attempt. (Hall returned to action in the second half.)

On the next play, Robinson intercepted a pass at the Alabama 45 and returned it to the Ole Miss 16. Three plays later, plus a delay of game penalty before the first play, Bama was facing fourth and 21. This time Christensen put Bama on the board with a 43-yard field goal.

The rest of the quarter was almost all Ole Miss, although the Rebels were unable to take advantage of a couple of scoring opportunities. A 31-yard field goal try was missed badly by Bass. Then with less than half a minute to play, the Rebels tried a different kicker, Will Moseley. His low kick was blocked by Justin Britt with 22 seconds to play, leaving Alabama down by only 7-3. Moments before that kick try, Robinson had missed a potential interception and wide open field.

Bama finally went ahead on a nifty four-play, 82-yard drive that took only 77 seconds on the Tide's first possession of the second half. Croyle completed passes of nine yards to Keith Brown and 21 yards to tight end Nick Walker around a four-yard run by LeRon McClain. Then from the Mississippi 48, Darby burst off right guard and out-ran the Rebels' to the end zone. Christensen's kick made it 10-7.

Alabama's defense giving ground and the Tide offense failing to gain ground enabled Mississippi to have excellent field position most of the day. But the Rebels weren't always able to take advantage of it.

In the fourth quarter, Ole Miss drove to a first and goal at the Alabama eight-yard line. The Tide's goalline stand consisted of Bama being offsides for a five-yard penalty, but the Rebels more than off-setting that error with consecutive delay of game penalties. Finally, on fourth and goal from just inside the eight, Bass kicked a 24-yard field goal to tie the game at 10-10. The game had 11:42 to go, and it would use every moment before another score–Christensen's game-winner.

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