18 October 2008
In what has become a recurring pattern, the Alabama Crimson Tide ran up a 24-3 halftime lead, then wound up holding the outmanned Ole Miss Rebels off at game's end for a narrow 24-20 victory. Bama was not assured that it would remain unbeaten and a prime player in the BCS championship picture until Jevan Snead's fourth-and-four pass to Dexter McCluster fell incomplete around Bama's 20-yard-line within the final minute of play.
Alabama, which has outscored its opponents 95-3 in the first quarter of games this year, has now been itself outscored 61-13 in the second half of its last three games.
The game began with the two teams trading three-and-outs, but shortly thereafter Enrique Davis knifed through the Alabama secondary on a counter play for a 62-yard ramble, stopped only by a fine form tackle from Kareem Jackson, who tracked Davis down from across the field. Although the Bama defense held, the Rebel's ensuing field goal marked the first first-quarter points scored against the Tide all year, and the Rebels' 3-0 advantage was the only lead any time has held against Bama in 2008.
It did not last long, as Bama bounced back with a five-play, 73-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by a 25-yard completion from John Parker Wilson to Julio Jones and a beautifully-thrown 26-yard TD from Wilson to Marquis Maze. Alabama added a grind-'em-out 11-play, 63-yard TD drive in the second quarter, and after a Van Tiffin field goal Wilson struck with another perfectly-thrown pass, this one for a 30-yard touchdown to Mike McCoy, who appeared to be blanketed by two Ole Miss defensive backs until Wilson's pass snuck through a tiny window into McCoy's hands.
But on the third play of the second half, Alabama's dominant juco transfer nosetackle, Terrence Cody, went down with what appeared to be a serious knee injury. The bubble appeared to go out of Bama's balloon, and the game appeared to be a race between the clock and the Ole Miss offense the rest of the way.
A suddenly-hapless Alabama offense turned the ball over twice and only penetrated the Rebel 40 once in the second half, only to immediately turn it over on a poorly-thrown interception thrown into double coverage on a play when Wilson apparently could have taken another five or more seconds to survey the field. But Bama's defense had just enough in the tank to hold short a talented Rebel offense that clearly smelled blood after the Cody injury, contributing a forced fumble and recovery and a pair of stops on downs that made the difference in the outcome.
For the first time this season, Alabama was outgained on the ground 158-107, and Alabama's leading ground-gainer Glen Coffee did not touch the ball again after his fourth fumble in the last two weeks and sixth of the season gave Ole Miss the ball at the Bama 34 early in the fourth quarter and set up a Rebels' TD that cut Bama's lead to 24-17. Ole Miss would drive inside Bama territory twice more after that, but could only get three more points, not enough to make the difference.