|Amari Cooper was the Tide's surprising offensive star vs. Ole Miss. (US Presswire)|
ALABAMA WON. It won't necessarily go into the Crimson Tide's all-time victory scrapbook, but Nick Saban will take a two-touchdown win over a determined, well-coached SEC opponent every time. The Tide took advantage of three second-quarter Ole Miss interceptions to turn a 7-6 deficit int oa 27-7 lead, then slammed the door after the Rebels pulled within 27-14 in the third. On a night with little in the way of explosive offense on either side -- Alabama finished with only 305 total yards, Ole Miss 215 -- Tide freshman wideout Amari Cooper was the star, pulling in a career-high 8 catches for 84 yards and two impressive touchdowns.
WHY ALABAMA WON. Because the Crimson Tide secondary remains one of the truly elite units in college football. Hugh Freeze has made his reputation as a kind of Air Raid-style fling-it-around guru (just without the Mike Leach connections), but even he couldn't solve the dilemma of how to attack corners Dee Milliner and Deion Belue, safeties Vinnie Sunseri and Robert Lester, and the rest of the Alabama defensive backs. The three interceptions stand out on the stat sheet -- one each by Lester, Milliner, and Belue -- but just as damaging was the meager 4.2 yards allowed per pass. With everything thrown short and underneath (everything that wasn't picked, anyway), it was easy for the Tide to also bottle up the Rebel ground game (2.3 yards per-carry). That Freeze and quarterback Bo Wallace were able to engineer two long scoring drives -- a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the first half and a 16-play, 70-yard march in the second -- without any kind of downfield threat is, frankly, sort of amazing.
But Freeze was never really going to be able to challenge the Tide without a difference-maker at quarterback, and with Wallace still more solid than spectacular and change-of-pace QBs Randall Mackey and Barry Brunetti unable to much of anything in the air, the likes of Milliner and Lester were always going to have a field day.
WHEN ALABAMA WON. Ole Miss actually got the ball back in decent field position late in the third quarter, down 27-14 and dreaming of cutting the lead to a single possession heading into the fourth quarter. Results: Nick Perry sack, pressurized incompletion, pressurized incompletion, poor punt. Alabama's offensive response: a grueling 13-play, 51-yard scoring drive that ended in a short Jeremy Shelley field goal and wiped 6:31 off the clock. Though the Rebels were technically still down only two possessions at 30-14, the odds of making up those two possessions with only 12 minutes left in the game were infinitesimal. The drive -- powered mostly by tailback Eddie Lacy with a handful of precision AJ McCarron throws -- also showed that even if the Tide offense wasn't at its most exciting Saturday, it still knew how to grind out the necessary yardage when it had to.
WHAT ALABAMA WON. A 5-0 record, another week at the top of the polls, and the knowledge that even the Tide's "B" game should be enough to see off the SEC's middle class.
WHAT OLE MISS LOST. If it's possible not to lose anything from a 19-point SEC loss, this might have been one example of that--the Rebel defense looked drastically improved over the 66-point home outing vs. Texas a few weeks back, the offense was able to move the ball when its quarterbacks had just a modicum of time and accuracy, and in general the Rebels looked nothing like the outfit the Tide simply outclassed in Oxford last season. It's still probably too soon to dream of a bowl game, but on the evidence of Saturday, games against the likes of Auburn and Arkansas are certainly not out of reach.