Whatever Else, It Was a Win

Maybe it was the early kickoff time. Maybe the dreaded "sandwich game" theory, a game that's dangerous simply because it falls in between two higher profile games, was applicable even though Alabama had an off after its big win over Florida.

Maybe it was the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. Maybe it was the white uniforms-the Crimson Tide was wearing them for the first time all year Saturday.

Maybe it was the weather-on the warm side for football, but by no means oppressive. The kickoff temperature was in the mid-70s, and approaching 80 degrees at halftime.

Whatever the reason, Alabama just wasn't quite ready to play in the first half.

On offense, the jumbo package didn't execute on third and one deep in Ole Miss territory. In a wise attempt to set a tone early, Mike Shula went with another running play from the jumbo set on fourth down and it was stopped.

"We thought we could get some momentum in our two tights package and we just didn't execute too well in that particular play," Shula said.

Kenneth Darby's 48-yard touchdown run was his career long, and it put Bama up three points, but it wasn't the spark to a Bama runaway, as many thought it would be at the time. That didn't come until the final seconds, when Jamie Christensen put the exclamation mark on a two-minute drive that had everything:

A Brodie Croyle scramble for first down, a first down reception for Bama's No. 6 receiver Matt Miller, better known for holdin on Christensen's kick, and a remarkable draw play to make the field goal closer to a chip shot than a long try. That draw play to Darby was an audible called by Croyle to get out of a pass play. Understanding Shula's system has meant wonders.

"We had not executed well throughout the game, but in the two-minute we gave ourselves a chance to win," Tide Head Coach Mike Shula said.

Defensively, Ramzee Robinson had a gift-wrapped interception thrown his way by Ole Miss quarterback Michael Spurlock, but instead the pass ricocheted off Robinson's chest and into the arms of Taye Biddle.

Biddle raced to the Alabama 16 yard line where DeMeco Ryans caused a fumble that Charlie Peprah recovered to stop the Ole Miss threat. Robinson atoned for the mistake later, intercepting another poor Spurlock pass in the second quarter and returning it 39 yards to the 16, setting up Alabama's first score of the day. Then right before halftime, he missed another opportunity when Spurlock threw errantly on a route to the sideline.

"We were playing a zone and I was more focused on playing the man than the ball. That's something I have to learn and get better at. Once it leaves the quarterbacks hands it's my ball or his ball, basically."

The good news from Saturday-the best possible news-Alabama won. The Tide won a close game for the first time in the Mike Shula era, and Brodie Croyle had his first game-winning two-minute drive "I guess since my junior year of high school," he said when asked if it had happened before.

"When you go through 13 games, you've got to win one ugly," Alabama defensive coordinator Joe Kines said. "You don't have to, but most of the time you're going to. There's a game that's not going to be sharp and as pretty, but they don't put asterisks by those W's."

When the W's come, it's easy to have fun with the missed opportunities before going to work on converting them.

"Guys have been teasing me since the game has been over," Robinson said, "because I had three opportunities to come out with big play, three picks, and I only got one."

Two years ago here in Oxford was Darby's then career run long came on a 41-yard run where we was injured for the rest of the year. The Tide lost in perhaps its most demoralizing game of the past three years. This year, in one of their weaker performances, the Alabama football team was all smiles.


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