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Tide shuns comeback

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama kept its undefeated season alive, but just barely, in a 24-20 win over Ole Miss on Saturday.

The Tide squandered a 24-3 halftime lead as a Rebels team that was lifeless for most of the first half caught fire in the second, but came up short in its bid for the comeback.

“It’s obviously a great win for us,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban. “We’re not just focused on winning. Our focus is a lot on how we win and a big goal for us today … was to go out and play and do a better job in the second half. And obviously we didn’t do that.

The Rebels (3-4, 1-3 SEC) got on the board first with a 25-yard field goal by Joshua Shene to cap a 7-play, 72-yard drive. Enrique Davis’ 62-yard run to the 8-yard line set up the score.

But that was their lone bright spot in the first half as the Tide offense and defense combined to take a stranglehold on the momentum.

Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC) responded to the Rebels’ jab with an uppercut, and quarterback John Parker Wilson found Marquis Maze for a 26-yard touchdown pass to cap a 4-play, 73-yard drive.

The Tide offense found its groove again early in the second quarter, driving 60 yards on 11 plays behind the rushing of Mark Ingram and Glen Coffee. Ingram finished the drive with a 2-yard plunge.

Down 14-3, unable to move the ball for most of the first half and seemingly unable to stop the Tide, the Rebels quickly abandoned the rushing game for the pass.

The decision cost them dearly.

Oxford, Miss., native Justin Woodall intercepted Rebel quarterback Jevan Snead, setting the Tide up at the Rebel 32. But the Ole Miss defense stiffened, and the Tide settled for a 41-yard Lee Tiffin field goal.

The Rebels’ next possession led to what appeared to be an early knockout blow for Alabama.

Ole Miss wide receiver Dexter McCluster tried to catch Alabama by surprise with a pass on a trick play, but his attempt was picked by Alabama safety Rashad Johnson at the Alabama 45. He ran 29 yards to the Ole Miss 26, and the Tide was in business again.

Two plays later, Wilson hit Mike McCoy for a 30-yard touchdown on a flea flicker, and the Tide took a commanding three-touchdown lead into the locker room.

“We have been practicing that for five years, and I can’t believe it got called, actually,” said Wilson. “Mike did a good job of getting open, and I was able to give him a good ball.”

But the second half told a different story. The Alabama offense and defense showed only mere flashes of their earlier brilliance.

The Rebels stormed out of the locker room with a 10-play, 52-yard drive — including two fourth down conversions — capped by a 9-yard shovel pass from holder Rob Park to fullback Jason Cook on a fake field goal to cut the lead to 24-10.

“We all knew they were going to fake it,” said Saban. “I mean, how many times do you see the holder walk up and tell the offensive line that it’s a play? That was huge in the game in terms of momentum.”

Late in the third quarter, the Rebels drove deep into Alabama territory again. But the Tide defense — in one of its few second-half bright spots — stuffed Davis on three straight plays to take possession at the ‘Bama 24.

Another miscue ended the Rebels’ next drive as McCluster fumbled at the Alabama 46.

“We hurt ourselves with a penalty at a bad time and then a fumble at a bad time,” said Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt. “You just can’t do that to beat a No. 2 team in the country.”

Alabama gave the ball away on a Glen Coffee fumble at its own 34.

Snead hit Hodge for a 17-yard touchdown pass six plays later to cut the score to 24-17, and suddenly it was a ball game. again

The Rebels drove to the Alabama 43, but the Tide defense stood tall one more time. A Snead incompletion forced the Rebels to turn it over on downs.

“Our guys came back in the second half after we didn’t have a very good first half,” said Nutt. “Tell you what we do have. We got some fighters and some guys that are really believing if they keep doing that, good things are going to happen.”