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October 18, 2010University of Alabama coach Nick Saban made a point of telling reporters late Saturday night that he didn't really like to see his players on the ground needing the help of team trainers only to return to the game a couple of plays later.
"What kind of message are you sending?" he asked.
He might have been saying something completely different after watching the Ole Miss game film.
For example, it appeared that the Rebels targeted junior defensive end Marcel Dareus' sprained ankle. On the their second play, a 4-yard run, freshman left guard Patrick Junen came off the line and was blocking sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower when he got turned around, couldn't miss seeing Dareus engaged with left tackle Bradley Sowell and dove straight for his foot/ankle.
When the television broadcast joined the game after the conclusion of South Carolina at Kentucky, the first thing viewers saw was Dareus being attended to and then getting up.
Other injuries weren't controversial. Sophomore cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick appeared to be in agony near the end of the third quarter, grabbing at his left shoulder (he's had shoulder issues requiring surgery), only to miss one snap. On the play in question freshman linebacker C.J. Mosley landed on his arm, with Kirkpatrick fortunate not to be seriously hurt.
Sophomore running back Trent Richardson had a scary moment when his leg got caught underneath him and he was awkwardly bent backward during the kick return he fumbled. Junior wide receiver Marquis Maze took a beating, and not just on the punt return he fumbled (more about that later).
Of course, junior wide receiver Julio Jones aggravated his broken hand near the end of the first quarter and didn't return. He's expected to play next week.
Alabama sustained the usual number of bumps and bruises against Ole Miss, but everyone can be certain that the Crimson Tide will welcome the bye after visiting Tennessee on Saturday.
Here are the awards:
Play of the game: Richardson's 85-yard touchdown was Alabama's longest offensive play of the season. Ole Miss didn't react well to a shift, with Maze, junior wide receiver Darius Hanks and senior tight end Preston Dial all moving from the left side to the right, and Richardson subtly switching to senior quarterback Greg McElroy's left. He caught the screen and ran through a poor arm-tackle while sophomore guard Chance Warmack provided a key block, Hanks and Dial came across field to hold up defenders and junior center William Vlachos proved that he can disrupt things without even hitting anyone while running down the sideline.
Player of the game: It's a three-way split between Richardson and the two No. 4s, junior safety Mark Barron and Maze. Richardson finished with 220 all-purpose yards while Maze tallied 168, and his 125 punt-return yards were the third most in a single game in Alabama history. Barron had seven tackles (five solo), a tackle for a loss, a hurry, broke up a pass and made his second interception of the season off a pass batted by two teammates.
Statistic of the game: Five of Ole Miss' first six possessions were three-and-outs, with the longest in time just 1 minute, 43 seconds. The other "drive" was five yards in five plays, lasting 2:30.
Hit of the game: Junior Alex Watkins took out two players, safety Damien Jackson and linebacker Allen Walker, on Maze's 37-yard punt return. It may have been the hit of the season.
Did you notice? After McElroy was sacked for the second time, Ole Miss senior nose tackle Jerrell Powe, who is listed as 6-foot-2, 320 pounds, stepped on his throwing hand.
Here are 10 other things of note from Saturday's 23-10 victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium:
The sideline checks: Alabama came out in the no-huddle with the sideline calling adjustments and audibles, with mixed results. Even though it was aided by a roughing-the-kicker penalty the 11-play drive was the Tide's longest (in number of plays) and resulted in a 7-yard touchdown catch by Dial. It was also really the only time Alabama attacked vertically. However, McElroy got off to a poor start, and with Ole Miss bringing pressure missed on his first four attempts while also taking a couple of hard hits.
Before and after Julio: When Jones pulled himself following his drop, McElroy had completed 4-of-10 attempts for 25 yards. He was 1-for-3 on third downs and 2-for-5 in the red zone. The rest of the game he was 13-of-15 (.867) for 194 yards, and 5-for-5 on third downs (although only converted two). As for the two incompletions, the first ball he threw after having his hand stepped on was nearly intercepted, and he just missed senior Earl Alexander on a slant with no deep safety to prevent a big gain. McElroy completed passes to eight different players, including freshman Kenny Bell making his first career reception.
The sacks: Here's how Ole Miss got its four, two on third downs:
1. A heavy blitz with two missed blocks.
2. A busted screen, although McElroy missed Hanks open on a crossing route.
3. Powe beat Vlachos, who couldn't get over quick enough to his left (Richardson scored the 85-yard touchdown on the subsequent play).
4. McElroy appeared to hold it too long, with a defender rushing wide causing the quarterback to step up where two Ole Miss players came off their blocks.
McElroy also took off once on second-and-goal from the Ole Miss 7, for a 1-yard gain.
Explosive plays: It's good news, bad news. For the first time this season, Alabama's running game failed to produce even one explosive play. As a reminder, Saban defines a big gain as a run of 16 yards or more or a pass of 21 yards or more, and an explosive play a run of 13 yards or more or a pass of 17 yards or more. The passing game had four explosive plays, three in the second half on just six attempts, and two big plays. Meanwhile, the defense didn't give up an explosive pass, with the longest gain just 15 yards. Ole Miss had four explosive runs, two classifying as big: the reverse and Jeremiah Masoli's 26-yard scamper. The quarterback either ran or passed a combined 50 times for 150 total yards, a 3.0 average.
The running game: Once again the Tide almost completely holstered the pistol, running out of the formation just twice in the second half for 11 yards. Alabama almost ran exclusively out of the base formation with the quarterback under center, but whenever it needed a first down or key yards looked to junior Mark Ingram. There were four carries out of the wildcat for 8 yards and one play in the Bobcat (Maze taking the direct snap) for minus-1. The Rebels were tough up the middle and frequently kept nine near the box, but the Tide had its greatest success running behind right tackle Alfred McCullough with four carries of 9 yards or greater.
Thrown at: Masoli attempted 40 passes, 10 of which he either threw away, the receiver couldn't make the catch or dropped. Alabama also broke up six passes and nearly had two more interceptions in addition to Barron's. Ole Miss went after both starting cornerbacks, with nine balls thrown in Kirkatrick's way and eight toward freshman DeMarcus Milliner. Of those 17 attempts just eight were completed, the most notable the 15-yard touchdown by 6-foot-7 Melvin Harris. The other 15-yard completion was a screen out of the backfield, and a 12-yard gain split the zone, but generally the secondary did a terrific job of keeping everything in front of them. Aiding the defensive backs were 10 pressures, six tackles for a loss and pair of sacks.
Special teams: Alabama had 199 return yards (kick and punt) compared to 77 for Ole Miss. On the onside kick, Coach Houston Nutt was upset that Fon Ingram was called offside, which was very, very close. However, he also went on to impede sophomore Nick Lowery from trying to field the kick while teammate Derrick Herman nearly caught it cleanly. Getting to the ball first isn't illegal, but impeding someone from trying to is. On the roughing-the-kicker call, Jeremy McGee was pushed by junior Chris Underwood into sophomore Jeremy Shelley, but made no effort to avoid the kicker and instead plowed into his knee. When Ole Miss was called for illegal hands to the face on the return Richardson fumbled the penalty was drawn by junior Brandon Gibson. Shelley appeared to just miss his 42-yard field-goal attempt to the right. Freshman Cody Mandell averaged just 38.2 yards per punt, but got some favorable bounces to help land four inside the 20.
Maze's night: He took a beating. Maze landed hard on the first ball thrown his way, and appeared to be shook up, only to come back and take a couple of nasty late hits (one for a penalty although a member of the chain crew got the worst of it), a hard hit on a punt return and was drilled on the one he fumbled. Saban pointed out afterward that anything inside the 10 is not to be returned and he fielded it at the Alabama 4.
Penalties: Alabama's eight penalties matched the season high, but the Crimson Tide also had four penalties declined. Warmack was flagged for a cut block and a false start when he jumped as McElroy was trying to get Gibson to line up in the correct spot. Dareus was offside three times (one declined), the Tide had two delay-of-game calls, sophomore tight end Michael Williams was flagged for holding and junior Chris Jordan had a false start on a punt. Holding penalties by Vlachos and Kirkpatrick were declined, along with illegal motion on Ingram. Defensive tackle Nick Gentry should have been credited with a sack on the ball Masoli threw away while in his grasp. Although it wasn't clear if it reached the line of scrimmage he wasn't outside the tackles, a prerequisite to avoiding an intentional-grounding call.
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