Manning & Ole Miss outmanned by Bama

Santonio Beard scored a school record-tying five touchdowns and Alabama's defense stifled Mississippi's heretofore explosive offense as the Crimson Tide took a 42-7 win over the Rebels in Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday.

The victory improved the Tide's record to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in Southeastern Conference games. Mississippi dropped to 5-2 and 2-1. It was the 150th career head coaching victory for Alabama's Dennis Franchione.

Alabama continues in SEC play next Saturday when the Tide goes to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee was open this weekend. The game is expected to be an ESPN telecast with kickoff approximately 7:30 p.m. EDT, 6:30 p.m. CDT.

The game included the dramatic return to action of Bama punter Lane Bearden, who had suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee nearly a month ago against Arkansas. Beard punted five times for a 40-yard average, had two inside the 20, and the three Bearden punts the Rebels attempted to return went for minus two yards.

Franchione called Bearden's performance the most courageous he had seen in 30 years of coaching. "If he doesn't win the SEC Specialist of the Week Award, there is no reason for them to have that award," the Tide coach said.

On the "bad" injury side, however, quarterback Tyler Watts, attempting to come back after suffering a sprained foot against Southern Miss three games earlier, appeared to re-injure the foot in the second quarter when he made a misstep. Watts had completed four of six passes for 43 yards and run four times for 12 yards before the non-contact injury. Brodie Croyle, who had started at quarterback the past two games, had a very good game in relief, completing six of 11 passes for 179 yards. Neither quarterback was intercepted.

Beard's five touchdown runs tied an Alabama record set by Shaun Alexander against BYU in 1998. Beard had 13 rushes for 138 yards on the day.

Bama drove 85 yards in nine plays to a 25-yard Beard touchdown run on the Crimson Tide's first possession and Alabama was never headed in the game. Bama unveiled a new placekicker Saturday as junior college transfer Kyle Robinson, a left-footed kicker, made his debut by connecting on all six of his extra point kicks. Bama did not attempt a field goal Saturday.

A 35-yard Beard run on Alabama's second possession capped a five-play, 59-yard drive that gave Alabama a 14-0 lead.

The Rebels pulled to within a touchdown just before the end of the second half with a nine-play, 70-yard drive. Robert Williams ran it in from three yards out.

Although the offense seemed to stumble in the second quarter after the injury to Watts, on a third-and-13 play from the Alabama 49 Croyle connected with Dre Fulgham on a touchdown pass that gave Bama a 21-7 halftime lead.

Beard's third touchdown of the game was the only score of the third quarter. He went in from nine yards out to give Alabama a 28-7 lead. However, there was plenty of additional drama in the remainder of the quarter. Ole Miss drove to a first down at the Alabama three. However, the Bama defense stiffened with a successful goalline defense. And after taking over at its own two-yard line, Alabama got a 64-yard Croyle to Sam Collins pass on the final play of the third quarter, setting up Alabama at the Mississippi two-yard line.

On the first play of the fourth quarter Beard got his fourth touchdown. Alabama, which had been looking at an almost certain cut in the lead to only 14 points going to the final period, instead led by 35-7 with just under 15 minutes to play.

Bama wrapped up the game with an impressive drive of 5 minutes and 41 seconds, an 11-play, 84-yard march with Beard going in from 10 yards out. It was 42-7 with only 3:50 to play.

There were at least two "bulletin board" type items that proved not to be a factor in the game. In his regular Tuesday press briefing, Franchione had said Bama's fourth quarter loss (27-24) to Mississippi in Oxford last year should motivate his team, adding that Franchione had circled this year's game on his calendar on the day after last year's contest. (Mississippi Coach David Cutcliffe, who was among the Alabama alumni in Tuscaloosa for homecoming, may circle the date of next year's game on his calendar Sunday.)

The other potential bulletin board item was Bama defensive end Nautyn McKay-Loescher noting that he had picked up a recent copy of "GQ" magazine and seen Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning in a fashion cover pose. McKay-Loescher had said before the game it was the goal of the Alabama defense to get to "the pretty boy." The defense did pretty well. Manning had been sacked only four times in Mississippi's first six games. Alabama defenders sacked Manning three times and held him to 18 completions in 32 attempts for 219 yards with one interception and no touchdowns. McKay-Loescher had one of the sacks for 13 yards and also caused a fumble on the play.

Alabama had only three more first downs than Mississippi, 18-15. And the Rebels won the time of possession battle, 31:25 to 28:35. But Bama dominated in yardage. The Tide had 43 rushes for 234 yards and completed 10 of 17 passes for 222 yards. ("I liked our offensive balance," Franchione said after the game.) That was total offense of 456 yards. Mississippi had 28 rushes for four net yards on the ground. Along with the 219 yards of passing offense, the Rebels had 223 yards. Both teams had 60 offensive plays, Alabama averaging 7.6 yards per play, Mississippi 3.7 yards per play.

If a goal of the defense is to shut down the rushing game, consider what Alabama did to the Rebels. Including the three sacks for 37 yards in losses against Manning, the Rebels had 28 rushes for gains of 53 yards and losses of 49 yards. The leading rusher for the Rebels, Williams, had eight carries for 23 yards.

Dre Fulgham had three receptions for 87 yards and Sam Collins three catches for 83 yards. Shaud Williams had nine rushes for 39 yards and five punt returns for 59 yards.

Tide safety Charles Jones had eight tackles, while Waine Bacon and Derrick Pope were in on four each. McKay-Loescher, Antwan Odom, and Jarret Johnson had sacks. Gerald Dixon turned in a pass interception and broke up five passes.

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