Domination was the order of the day.
In the first half of the 24-20 loss to Alabama, the Tide owned the Rebels, taking a 24-3 lead into the intermission and holding a 219-104 total yardage advantage.
The Rebels flipped things completely in the second half, outscoring the number two-ranked Tide 17-0 and outgaining them 255-107.
"We just executed better," said Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix, whose unit also forced two turnovers in the second half. "We changed a couple of calls, but it was basically the kids just making up their minds to play better.
"We were also able to keep Alabama at bay on first and second downs and create several third and longs that we did not allow them to convert. We started winning on first downs and if you can do that you can get yourself off the field."
The Rebel pass coverage also improved. In the first half, Alabama threw for 152 yards. In the second half, just 67.
"We were not doing a great job in man so we mixed in more zone coverages and that helped us some. We are not real good in zone, but we had to try to keep them off-balance and our man just did not work in the first half," Nix continued. "The only long play they had in the second half was a tight end drag and we were in man coverage. We just did not execute real well in man, period."
Nix challenged the defensive players at halftime.
"We knew going in it was going to be a fight, but we weren't fighting hard enough in the first half. I told them they were going to get their character tested in the second half. We were going to see what they were made of," he said. "If we wanted to gain some respect, we had to hold them scoreless in the second half and give our offense a chance to win it. To the kids' credit, that is what they did."
As good as the Rebel defense played in the second half, Nix was asked if this could be a turning point for his unit.
"I do not know. All I know is that I like to win and we didn't do enough in the first half to win the game. We played really well in the second half. We stopped their run game, we essentially stopped everything, and we forced two turnovers, but as good as we were in the second half, we didn't play four quarters and that is what it takes in this league," he closed.
Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin had some similar thoughts. The Rebel offense did a much better job in the second half, but the old nemesis - turnovers - reared its ugly head in the first half a couple of times and in the second half once.
"We gave them too many turnovers. We have been stressing ball security for two weeks and we still did not take care of the ball the way we should," Austin began. "Alabama is a really good defensive team and you just cannot give them that many opportunities."
Austin said there was a night-and-day difference in sophomore QB Jevan Snead in the two halfs.
"In the second half, Jevan got us out of the huddle, made great reads, made good decisions and threw the ball with confidence," Kent stated. "We got some momentum going. It was the difference in being composed in the second half and not as composed in the first half."
Austin's message at halftime was an either/or deal.
"I told them they could cave in or come back and compete. It is always the players' team. I asked them if they were going to play football the way we know we can play or not. It was a simple choice and they decided to play," he noted. "The first half was not the first time we had lost our composure this year. We need to grow up some, to be honest, and that is my responsibility on this side of the ball.
"We've got young guys playing at some key positions, but it's my job to get them around the curve a litle quicker."
Kent was impressed with the Alabama front.
"They are a really physical front. We didn't get much running game going except for the long run by Enrique Davis and a few other runs, but the biggest disappointments - again - were the turnovers. They killed us again," Austin noted.
Snead threw an ill-advised pass over the middle that was picked off in the first half, Dexter McCluster threw an interception out of the Wild Rebel set and McCluster fumbled in the fourth quarter in Alabama territory after a nice gain.
"It's so unfortuante for Dexter. I'm not real sure what the answer is. He's fumbling in the secondary and taking some big hits," said Kent. "But to sit him is out of the question, not an option. He's a playmaker and we need him on the field. We just need him to hold the ball better."
Austin got good production out of Lionel Breaux and E. Davis, which he thinks will pay dividends in the future.
"We've asked them to come on strong and contribute and I think they are starting to respond to that," he closed. "We've got some really good football players on this team. All we need to do is stop making the critical mistakes and we'll be fine, but it's time to do it now."
It is hard to fathom the level of domination both teams exhibited. Alabama the first 30 minutes and the Rebels the last.
But the bottom line is the Tide made one less major mistake and left the Bryant-Denny field 7-0 while the Rebels head to Arkansas with a 3-4 worksheet.
Game of the Year - another one - coming up in seven days.
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