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October 17, 2010

Tide's defense puts Alabama back on winning track

TUSCALOOSA _ Although Ole Miss may have a new official mascot, the University of Alabama knows a few things about bears.

Saturday night was the kind of game the namesake coach of the program probably would have enjoyed, especially considering what it lacked in excitement. Playing trademark Crimson Tide football at Bryant-Denny Stadium, with the defense leading the way, Alabama simply smothered Ole Miss for a dominating 23-10 victory.

Think of it as like a giant bear hug, squeezing the life out of the opposition.

"The goal of this game was for us to get back to playing with the kind of effort, the kind of toughness, and the discipline, execution and intensity that you need to play with to play winning football," Coach Nick Saban said. "We probably hit on the toughness part; I was pleased with that. I thought we tackled better on defense and played on the line of scrimmage better. We did a better job all the way around.

"I thought we gave a much better effort in this game. Guys really played hard, and I'm really proud of that. The intensity was good. The execution was not what it needs to be, and that's something we can to improve on."

Or, as senior tight end Preston Dial put it: "We had some positive and negatives.

"I'm really proud of the defense."

The first two possessions were pretty reflective of the whole game. After taking the opening kickoff, Ole Miss gained a single yard and punted.

Meanwhile, the No. 8 Crimson Tide (6-1 overall, 3-1 SEC) took advantage of great field position and grinded out 46 yards in 11 plays with Dial catching a 7-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Greg McElroy.

From there, the lead only grew as the Rebels were rendered lifeless. For most of the first half Alabama had more yards in penalties, 30, than Ole Miss' offense could muster, but barely as the Rebels went into the break with just 41. Yet the score was only 16-3, due to a Marquis Maze fumble while returning a punt deep in Alabama territory, to go with just two first downs and 0-for-8 on third-down conversions.

But Alabama wasn't able to take advantage of numerous situations, settling for three field goals, and the offense seemed to struggle without junior wide receiver Julio Jones. Less than a week after having surgery on his broken hand he played the first quarter, but was pulled after aggravating it.

The ground attack didn't fare much better.

"We've actually struggled against these guys for three years in a row offensively," Saban said. "They pretty much take the run away from you and make it difficult to run. You have got to execute in the passing game. At times we did, and at times we didn't."

Junior running back Mark Ingram had another modest night, 60 rushing yards on 15 carries, and Trent Richardson had a comparable 45 yards on 11 carries, but the sophomore had the big play of the night midway through in the third quarter. On third-and-13 the Tide lined up three receivers in a bunch formation on the right side only to have McElroy toss a quick screen to him on the left. After running through redshirt freshman cornerback Charles Sawyer's arm-tackle, Richardson won the footrace to the end zone for the 85-yard clinching touchdown.

"We kept trying to run the ball, trying to set them up," Richardson said. "It was obvious it was going happen."

Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2 SEC) finally did reach the end zone on a 15-yard touchdown reception by Melvin Harris, but the game's outcome was really never in doubt. Alabama never trailed, had an advantage in all of the major statistics and returned to its winning ways.

Which was the real goal Saturday night ... with the added bonus of some big hits like the one provided by Alex Watkins to lay out two Rebels during a 37-yard Maze punt return to set up a field goal.

"It was a tough loss against South Carolina, but we kind of used that as motivation and inspiration during the week," sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "Everyone kind of took a different role and a lot of guys stepped up as leaders.

"There was a difference in practice. I don't think we practiced that way all year."


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