Tide holds off MTSU

Although Alabama's defensive performance was disappointing in many ways, an interception and 41-yard return for a touchdown by freshman middle linebacker Freddie Roach proved to be the difference as Bama held off tenacious Middle Tennessee State, 39-34, Saturday. <br><br>The season-opener for both teams at Birmingham's Legion Field was the Crimson Tide's first season-opening victory in three years.

The competition picks up considerably next week as Alabama travels to Norman, Oklahoma, to take on number one ranked Oklahoma. The Sooners opened their season Friday night with a 37-0 win over Tulsa. Bama and Oklahoma will kick off shortly after 2:30 p.m. CDT with national television coverage by ABC.

Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione called it "A Tale of Two Games," pointing out Bama's near-perfect first quarter, and then three quarters which exposed numerous weaknesses.

Alabama looked very good in the first quarter Saturday, opening up a 22-0 lead while holding MTSU's highly-regarded offense to only one first down. However, a roughing the kicker penalty on a punt by the Blue Raiders seemed to ignite the visitors. Penalties were a key to Alabama's unimpressive performance. The Tide was flagged 16 times for 126 yards.

By halftime the Bama lead had shrunk to 22-11 and in the fourth quarter the Blue Raiders would pull within two points of the Tide at 29-27.

Then with Bama nursing a 32-27 lead and just over three minutes remaining in the game, Roach, a redshirt freshman, picked off a pass by MTSU quarterback Andrico Hines and ran it back to put Bama up by 39-27.

However, that was one of the few good things by Alabama's defense in the final three quarters, and the next seconds were misery for Bama. After one of several very poor jobs of kickoff coverage by Alabama special teams, the Tide defense allowed the Blue Raiders to go 42 yards and consume only 35 seconds in cutting the margin to the final score of 39-34.

The suspense did not end there, though. First, Theo Sanders successfully handled an on-sides kick to give Alabama possession at midfield with 2:16 to play. Three plays later Santonio Beard made a first down by inches and the Tide was able to run out the clock.

Alabama had an excellent first quarter. After the defense held MTSU's offense on the first series, Bama went 75 yards in 10 plays with Beard going in from four yards out. New placekicker Michael Ziifle made the first of his four extra point kicks. Ziifle also had a 28-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. The Tide defense again held the Blue Raiders on downs and Alabama went 72 yards in seven plays. Quarterback Tyler Watts found wide receiver Sam Collins open over the middle on a 35-yard touchdown pass. The extra point snap and hold was botched, but Lane Bearden, the holder , picked it up and shoveled the ball to wide receiver Dre Fulgham in the end zone to make it 15-0.

The Tide made it 22-0 with just 23 seconds remaining in the first stanza. Redshirt freshman tight end David Cavan made his first start and got his first reception, a 15-yard touchdown pass from Watts to cap a seven-play, 70-yard drive.

At the end of the first quarter, Alabama had 11 first downs and 198 yards to one first down and 26 total yards for MTSU. And it seemed Bama's defense had the ball back again when the Tide forced a punt on a fourth and 16 play from near midfield. But a Bama rusher hit the punter, sustaining an MTSU drive that turned into an 18-jplay, 80-yard touchdown march. A successful two-point conversion run cut the Tide lead to 22-8.

In what would be the only Alabama possession of the second quarter, two penalties by offensive linemen scuttled any hope of a successful drive. And MTSU closed the half with a drive from the Raiders' 19 to the Alabama 13, 12 plays ending with a successful 30-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter.

The visitors got another field goal on MTSU's first possession of the second half to cut the Alabama lead to 22-14 before Alabama got untracked with a nine-play, 82-yard drive. On a fourth-and-one situation at the MTSU 32, Alabama went for it with Watts making a quick pitch to Ahmaad Galloway, who went the distance and gave Alabama a 29-14 lead which the Tide would take to the fourth quarter.

MTSU scored early in the fourth quarter, a four-yard touchdown run to cap a nine-play, 75-yard drive, but the two-point conversion run attempt was stopped, leaving Alabama with a nine-point lead at 29-20. And after a Bama punt, the Blue Raiders went 80 yards in seven plays, a one-yard run for the touchdown to cut Alabama's lead to two points at 29-27 with just over nine minutes to play.

Alabama made a nice drive to inside the MTSU 10, but had to settle for a Ziifle field goal and a 32-27 lead with 5:46 to play.

Poor kickoff coverage – kickoff man Lane Bearden had to make a saving tackle and he was injured on the play – put the Blue Raiders at their 37 to start a potential drive to go-ahead points. However, on first down a crossing pass was picked off perfectly by Roach at the 41 and he went to the end zone, diving in for the touchdown and Alabama's final points.

There was no give up in Middle Tennessee as the Blue Raiders went to a touchdown in only 35 seconds.

Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione said, "You have to admire our kids. They hung in there and found a way to win."

He gave credit to Middle Tennessee State, pointing out that the Blue Raiders have a good offense, that the visitors averaged 480 yards per game last year. He said, "WE have a lot to work on in every aspect of the game."

Roach, Cavan and Ziifle were among 15 new Alabama players to see playing time Saturday. A total of 55 players saw action for the Tide. One of those was not back-up quarterback Brodie Croyle, a redshirt freshman whose debut had been highly-anticipated.

Both teams had 22 first downs Saturday. Alabama had 43 rushes for 194 net yards, while MTSU had 38 runs for 183 net yards. Watts did all of the Alabama passing and he was 16 of 22 with no interceptions and two touchdowns for 236 yards, while MTSU completed 17 of 25 passes with one critical interception and no touchdowns for 202 yards. Bama had total offense of 65 plays for 430 yards, MTSU 63 plays for 385 yards. Galloway was Bama's leading rusher with 15 carries for 77 yards. Watts had 10 runs for 54 yards and Beard nine for 47. Triandos Luke had nine receptions for 85 yards, while Sam Collins had two for 54 yards, Theo Sanders two for 43 yards, and Dr Fulgham two for 39. Lane Bearden had a good day punting, three boots for a 46.3 average.

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