Disaster Avoided

Alabama has a history in the past ten years or so of playing to the level of the opposition. That's how the Crimson Tide has managed losses to the likes of Northern Illinois, Louisiana Tech, and Central Florida. Alabama avoided that low tide Saturday, rebounding from a terrible first half t0 a misleading 30-14 win over Duke at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night.

Final Stats:

In an error-filled game, Alabama got a burst of fourth quarter running offense from Kenneth Darby and a interception for a touchdown from Lionel Mitchell to escape with victory.

The win broke a 1-1 series tie between Alabama and Duke. The Blue Devils had defeated Bama, 29-26, in the January 1, 1945, Sugar Bowl, while the Crimson Tide was a 35-12 winner over Duke in 1972.

With the win, Alabama improved to 4-2 at the halfway mark of regular season play. Duke fell to 0-5.

Alabama returns to Southeastern Conference play next Saturday when the Crimson Tide hosts the Ole Miss Rebels in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Gametime is expected to be announced Sunday or Monday with either CBS telecasting at 2:30 p.m. CDT or Lincoln Financial's SEC Game of the Week taking the game at 11:30 a.m.

Mississippi defeated Vanderbilt Saturday by a 17-10 score to improve the Rebs overall record to 2-4 and its SEC mark to 1-2, the same as Alabama's league record.

Alabama got the football at its own 46 with 8:11 to play and leading by only 16-14. Darby, who had only 55 yards rushing through three quarters, went to work. He had a gut-it-out 10-yard run for a first down into Duke territory. Two more runs got nine yards before Tim Castille picked up the first down. After a penalty, Darby ran 18 yards to the Duke 25 and another 20 to the Duke two.

Jimmy Johns replaced Darby and ran it in for his first college touchdown. Jamie Christensen's important extra point kick gave the Tide a nine-point lead at 23-14 with 4:08 to play.

Mitchell iced the game with his second interception of the year. The pass was tipped by Simeon Castille and grabbed by Mitchell at midfield. He raced 50 yards to the end zone with 3:33 to play and the Tide had its 30-14 win.

Darby broke the 100-yard barrier with 18 carries for 115 yards. Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson continued his streak of passing for at least 200 yards in every game. He completed 18 of 30 passes for 220 yards. He had one pass intercepted and threw for two touchdowns, one each to ace receivers D.J. Hall and Keith Brown. Hall had seven catches for 124 yards, Brown six receptions for 57 yards.

Alabama had 20 first downs to 14 for Duke. The Tide had 64 plays for 354 yards, Duke 59 plays for 275.

Alabama had a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, but it wasn't because the Crimson Tide had dominated. Duke's maligned offense had controlled the ball for most of the first quarter, Bama likely dodging a bullet when Duke fumbled into the end zone with Simeon Castille recovering for Alabama.

Alabama's ineptness in the Red Zone continued on Bama's first possession, although the Crimson Tide did manage to score. While the Tide drove smartly into First and Goal territory at the eight-yard line, by the time Bama's Jamie Christensen lined up to kick a field goal, Alabama had lost back to the 20 and Christensen had to make from 37 yards for a 3-0 lead.

The big play in the opening drive was John Parker Wilson's 33-yard pass to D.J. Hall down to the eight. Kenneth Darby had a 13-yard run.

Duke took the lead early in the second quarter. The Blue Devils didn't waste their second opportunity inside the Alabama 10. Duke overcame a penalty and completed a 9-yard pass from Thadddeus Lewis to an unguarded Eron Riley. Joe Surgan's extra point made it Duke 7, Alabama 3.

It was only the second touchdown of the year for Duke, which had been shut out by the likes of Richmond and beaten in its two previous games by 36-0 (Virginia Tech) and 37-0 (Virginia). It wouldn't be the last.

Just over five minutes before intermission, Alabama reclaimed the lead with an unusual drive of fits and starts. It was officially 11 plays for 90 yards and took 6:46. Alabama had to overcome a handful of penalties and Duke also had a costly one. (Based on penalties against both teams, it was a poorly played game.)

After the kickoff Rashad Johnson had a big return to midfield, but Bama was guilty of holding and had to start at its own 10. But that wasn't the worst of it. The Tide got an offensive pass interference call that made it first and 20 at the 11. Then after what appeared to be about a 65-yard gain on a pass from Wilson to Keith Brown, the ball was brought back because Brown had stepped out of bounds. The only thing that saved the drive was a late hit personnel foul on Duke.

Bama got rolling from there on a 26-yard pass from Wilson to Le'Ron McClain. Wilson then got a 41-yard gain on an excellent catch by Hall at the Duke five-yard line. Darby gained three, but that was more than offset by a false start penalty. From the eight, Darby got four to the four. On a broken third down play, Wilson threw across the field to a wide open Hall for the touchdown. Christensen gave Bama a 10-7 lead.

Duke took almost no time to retake the lead. The Blue Devils had a first and goal at the Alabama two before suffering a false start penalty. From the seven it took three plays for Lewis to run it over right end from five yards out for a 14-10 lead. The Blue Devils got a 33-yard run from third team tailback Re'quan Boyette and a 35-yard pass from Lewis to Riley to the two in the 6-play, 74-yard drive.

Alabama had one more chance at points on a fine two-minute drive, but from the dreaded Red Zone Christensen missed on a 31-yard field goal try as the first half ended.

Other than failing to get points, Alabama handled those final moments of the second quarter well. Bama did nothing after the Duke touchdown and punted. The Tide expended three timeouts in forcing the Blue Devils to punt back and took over at the Alabama 30 with 37 seconds remaining. Wilson completed a pair of 21-yard passes, one to Brown and one to Hall. But after getting into the Red Zone came up empty.

Alabama got off to a good start in the second half when Ramzee Robinson got his first interception of the year, setting theTide up at the Duke 40. A couple of passes got Bama a first down at Duke's 26, Wilson scrambled to the Duke 18 and then got a first down inside the 15 on a fourth down quarterback sneak. Three plays later Wilson connected with Brown on a nine-yard touchdown pass. Christensen's extra point kick was blocked by Duke's Casey Camero, leaving the Tide with only a two-point lead at 16-14.

Alabama and Duke exchanged gifts. Bama had the first giveaway. Wilson threw high to Brown, who tipped the ball to Duke safety John Talley, who returned it 27 yards to the Alabama 15.

The Blue Devils managed only a yard on three runs, and then Surgan missed a 31-yard go-ahead field goal. It was Duke's last serious offensive threat

It was not a pretty game. Both teams were penalized 10 times, Duke for 84 yards, Bama for 68. Duke suffered two interceptions and lost a fumble, and Bama was intercepted once.

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