TUSCALOOSA — Wow, what a mess.
Another Saturday of nonsense leaves the college football world wondering which way is up and how many undefeated teams will join Boise State as regular season survivors.
In the SEC, the decks are shuffled even further beyond recognition.
Florida can’t win.
LSU (somehow) can’t lose.
And Alabama still has issues running the ball.
The seventh best rush defense in the league almost held the vaunted Alabama backfield from reaching triple digits for the second straight week as the gaping running lanes were plugged with Black Bear Rebel defenders most of the night.
The Tide, ranked eighth in the first BCS standings released Sunday, finished with 100 yards on the ground in 34 attempts for an average of 3.4 yards per run. That’s up from last week’s 0.8-yard average against South Carolina, but a far cry from the 5.7-yard average against Arkansas or the 9-yard average at Duke.
“They pretty much take the run away from you and make it difficult to run,” Tide coach Nick Saban said afterwards.
“You have got to execute in the passing game. At times we did, and at times we didn’t. They gave us too many negative plays, and the penalties hurt our offense, stopping us on a couple of drives.”
Sure, Alabama still won 23-10 without being truly threatened all night, but it’s been just a few weeks since its backfield was considered the hands-down best one-two punch in the nation.
The first half against Ole Miss refueled the argument against that.
Of the 11 carries shared by Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram, seven went for two or fewer yards.
An unlike in the South Carolina loss, the Tide wasn’t forced to play from behind at any point Saturday.
But the Rebels stole a page from the Gamecock playbook, just like Ole Miss defensive lineman Jerrell Powe promised earlier in the week when he called the Alabama offense “one dimensional.”
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said his team followed the script when it came to stopping the run.
“They kept excellent pursuit and excellent swarming,” Nutt said. “We’ve talked about gang-tackling. You can’t tackle (Mark) Ingram, a Heisman Trophy winner, and Trent Richardson. You can’t tackle them one-on-one. You’ve got to get your people there. You’ve got to gather around the football in gangs, and our guys did that. They chased the ball extremely hard.”
An innocent little pass helped bail the slow-moving Alabama offense out of a hole and effectively seal the win.
Richardson followed a short 2-yard run and one of Greg McElroy’s four sacks by taking a seemingly harmless dump down 85 yards up the Alabama sideline to provide 39 percent of the Tide’s passing offense and put Ole Miss 20 points in the hole.
Ultimately, it’s obvious Richardson and Ingram haven’t lost that explosive feeling.
Defenses are just ultra prepared to limit their effectiveness as evidenced by the extra-aggressive game plans utilized by South Carolina and Ole Miss.
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star.