Sunday, September 29, 2013
Bama goes old school in blanking Rebels
By Chris Low
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Compared to the wildly entertaining Georgia-LSU shootout earlier in the day, Alabama's grind-it-out 25-0 win over Ole Miss on Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium was a bit of a dud.
One game was new-school SEC. The other old-school SEC.
The old-school approach has worked just fine for the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide, who've won three of the last four national championships.
But as we prepare to flip the calendar to October this season, the SEC championship race appears to be as wide open as ever and could take on a much different look than we're used to seeing in this league.
Suddenly, everybody's scoring points at a dizzying pace. Texas A&M has scored more than 40 in all five of its games. Georgia and LSU have scored 35 or more in all of their games.
The No. 21 Rebels also had scored more than 30 in all three of their games heading into Saturday night's contest but ran face-first into a crimson wall.
T.J. Yeldon gained 121 yards rushing, and Kenyan Drake had 99 in an old-school Alabama victory.
"At the end of the day, when you're playing fast-paced teams, all you have to do is get lined up and make plays," said Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, who outscored Ole Miss himself when he tackled quarterback Bo Wallace in the end zone for a fourth-quarter safety.
It was a reminder that somebody in the SEC still plays a little defense. It was also a reminder that Alabama has made a few strides on "D" after giving up a school-record 628 yards of total offense to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in the 49-42 win over the Aggies.
"Everything's a stepping stone," Alabama cornerback Deion Belue said. "When you're the No. 1 team, everybody's always trying to find what's bad about you. But we're just going to keep getting better."
Let's face it. There are a lot of teams around the country who would love to have Alabama's so-called problems.
After managing just three field goals in the first half, the Tide exploded in the second half with 218 of their 254 rushing yards. Most of that came on two long touchdown runs -- a 68-yarder by T.J. Yeldon and a 50-yarder by Kenyan Drake.
The consistency part is still eating at Alabama coach Nick Saban, and it looks like the Tide will be without starting center Ryan Kelly for the next two or three weeks after he injured his knee Saturday night.
Nonetheless, Saban loves the way this team has responded in tough situations this season and its competitive spirit.
"This team needs to still continue to improve, and I think everybody is committed to trying to do that," Saban said.
The best news for Alabama is that the schedule is extremely cushy until LSU rolls into town on Nov. 9. The Tide's next four games are against Georgia State, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee.
Moreover, what LSU's loss at Georgia did was severely decrease the chances that there would be a three-way tie in the West among Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M. That's bad news for the Aggies, who would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Tide in a two-team tie.
The Tigers, despite how heartbreaking the Georgia loss was, still control their own destiny in the West. If they can win out and beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, they would own the tiebreaker.
And over in the East, Georgia is in great shape having beaten two top 10 teams this month.
The Bulldogs, even with the season-opening loss at Clemson, also stayed in the BCS national championship chase with their win over LSU. The ideal scenario now for them would be to face an unbeaten Alabama in the SEC championship game and hope there's not more than one unbeaten team outside the league.
There's obviously a long way to go, but we've seen to this point that being able to score in the 40s might be as important this season as it ever has been if you're going to win a title.
But somewhere along the way, you better be able to play a little defense, too.