Tide Wins Ugly

As expected, Alabama was an easy winner of Florida International on homecoming weekend in Tuscaloosa Saturday. The Crimson Tide took a 38-3 decision and was able to play a lot of players. But for various reasons, it was not the fun experience many expected.

With the win, Alabama improved to 6-3 and became bowl eligible. The Crimson Tide leads the nation in bowl appearances (53) and bowl victories (30). Florida International, which was having a bad season even before suspending 18 players after its last game, fell to 0-7.

Despite the one-sidedness of the final score, Alabama's offense struggled against the Golden Panthers. The defense and special teams had much to do with Bama point production. Most unsettling was an injury suffered by starting Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson.

The game was Alabama's final non-conference game of the year. The Crimson Tide returns to Southeastern Conference play Saturday against Mississippi State, hosting the Bulldogs of Coach Sylvester Croom at 11:30 a.m. CST in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game will be telecast on the SEC's Lincoln Financial Services network.

Alabama's much-maligned special teams played a big part in Crimson Tide success Saturday. Javier Arenas returned a punt for a touchdown, Jamie Christensen had his career-longest field goal (46 yards), and Forress Rayford blocked a punt.

Playing against the worst football team that has been in Bryant-Denny Stadium since, well, maybe Duke, Alabama looked about like Duke in falling behind by 3-0 at the end of the first quarter.

The game started about the way one would expect it to start. Alabama forced Florida International to a three-and-out. Alabama drove to a first-and-goal. But then something unexpected happened. Instead of kicking a field goal when the Red Zone offense fizzled, Bama threw caution to the wind. A fourth down play was a fourth straight run up the middle, and Bama was denied.

Then things turned unlikely.

After a couple of punt exchanges, the visiting Golden Panthers got the scoring started. The big play was FIU quarterback Josh Padrick getting the pass away under pressure on a third-and-10 from the Panthers' 10. He found Jeremy Dickens down the sideline and it went for 68 yards to the Bama 22. Four plays later Dustin Rivest kicked FIU to a 3-0 lead with a 37-yard field goal.

It took Alabama into the second quarter to get on the board and into the lead. When the Crimson Tide finally got going, Bama moved pretty well. Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson hit Will Oakley on a 23-yard pass to Will Oakley to the FIU 10, then connected with fullback Le'Ron McClain on a swing pass for the go-ahead touchdown.

Jamie Christensen kicked Alabama to a 10-3 lead with a 46-yard field goal with 4:47 to play in the first half. Bama had to kick when a likely touchdown pass to Mike McCoy was dropped by the freshman on a third-and-seven play.

With 2:30 to play, Wilson completed a relatively inconsequential pass, a seven-yard gain to the Bama 35 to fullback Tim Castille. But it turned out to be of major consequence when Wilson went down with an injury to his left leg. Wilson was able to walk off the field after being down awhile.

Jimmy Barnes replaced Wilson in the lineup, but Jimmy Johns was in shotgun formation at quarterback and Barnes split out. A couple of runs got the Tide into FIU territory, but the drive stalled and Alabama punted away on fourth down and less than a minute remaining in what would be considered an unsatisfactory half.

Although Wilson returned for the second half, he was obviously limited, favoring his left ankle.

Early in the third quarter Florida International lost quarterback Josh Padrick for a few plays, but he, too, was able to return.

Fortunately, the Tide was able to get a little help from special teams, a touchdown without benefit of quarterback. Javier Arenas, who in the first half had a nice return wiped out by a penalty, took the first FIU punt of the second half back 65 yards for a touchdown and a 17-3 Alabama lead.

Moments later Demarcus Waldrop caused a fumble that was recovered by Simeon Castille and returned 11 yards to the FIU seven -yard line. Wilson was forced to throw the ball away on first down, then Kenneth Darby ran for four yards on second down, and Tim Castille ran it close to the goalline. On fourth down from inside the one, Castille got it again and this time he went in for a 24-3 lead with 7:14 remaining in the third quarter.

Barnes took over at quarterback for Alabama with 2:37 remaining in the third quarter after Bama stopped FIU on downs at midfield. It didn't go well. A run gained nothing. Then there was a timeout, followed by a delay of game as the Tide couldn't get the play off on time coming out of the timeout. Another run left it at third and 11. Barnes' lincomplete third down pass just beat a sack.

The defense got a touchdown when on a third down play a pass was tipped by the receiver at the 30 and picked off by Tide cornerback Ramzee Robinson at the FIU 34. Robinson went in untouched for the touchdown. Leigh Tiffin, who had not kicked since a disastrous outing in an overtime loss to Arkansas in the third game of the season, kicked the extra point to make it 31-3.

Late in the game Barnes had a couple of nice completions and had a very fine pass for what would have been a touchdown dropped by Nikita Stover. Stover did catch a third down pass for a first down at the FIU six. A pass interference put the ball at the two for first and goal. Proving that the second offense can do what the first offense can do in the Red Zone, Barnes was sacked at the 10 on first down. He completed a pass to back-up fullback Baron Huber at the six, then completed a touchdown pass to Matt Caddell. Tiffin's kick made it 38-3 with 3:06 to play.

Although Alabama's offensive statistics were not overwhelming, it was a much better day for Bama than for FIU in a game of only 107 total plays. Alabama had 14 first downs to only six for the Golden Panthers. Bama had 30 rushes for 107 yards, FIU 27 runs for 40 yards. Tide passers completed 14 of 24 passes for 117 yards, FIU nine of 26 for 135 yards. Alabama's total offense was 54 plays for 224 yards with no turnovers, the Panthers 53 plays for 175 yards with one fumble lost and one interception.

Kenneth Darby had 10 carries for 70 yards with a long of 33. Wilson completed eight of 13 passes for 72 yards and one touchdown, Barnes six of 11 for 45 yards and a touchdown. Matt Caddell turned out to be the leading receiver with three catches for 29 yards.

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