TUSCALOOSA, Ala -- For Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide, an ugly win is almost preferable. Field goals, minimal mistakes on offense with the occasional high-scoring game, and a suffocating defense is how the Tide have won the last two national titles.
You know, Alabama football.
Before the 25-0 win against the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday night, Alabama had yet to find an identity for this year’s team. The offense struggled in two of its first three games with a 49-point display against Texas A&M. The defense shut down Virginia Tech and Colorado State, but it allowed 628 yards of offense against A&M. After the Ole Miss game, Alabama had two 100-yard rushers - without having any in two of three games this season - and an offense that seemed to finally get in sync in the second half, with a backup center directing traffic.
But, most importantly, the defense that was torched by Johnny Manziel is different. Alabama’s team leaders spoke to the players and refocused them after the Colorado State win. Saban emphasized more of a positive attitude from the team and the fans this week, and the team had to come together against a potentially dangerous conference opponent.
They were prepared for this game.
“This is a big win for us in my opinion,” Saban said. “I think our players did a great job of competing in the game.
“Our players did a really, really good job of being relentless out there with their effort, their toughness, the way they competed in the game.”
Ole Miss entered the game averaging 500 yards of total offense per game and thought highly of its offense in the week leading up to the game. Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace was quoted as saying that his offense could “put points on anybody” and that their receivers were better than A&M’s. Alabama’s defense heard this and held the Rebels to 205 yards and zero points, which is the second consecutive game in which Alabama did not give up an offensive touchdown.
Saban may have his players trained to say that they don’t listen to comments made by the other team before the game, but linebacker C.J. Mosley and other defensive players confirmed that they heard Bo Wallace just fine.
“We really wanted to stay in the game the whole time, especially after all the talking they did,” Mosley said. “We really didn't pay attention to it, but we still heard it. For us to leave a zero on the board, it did a lot of talking for us on the field.”
With something to prove and a mouthy quarterback to silence, Alabama’s defense took it upon itself to respond and prove that it deserved to maintain its No. 1 ranking.
“We looked at it as a challenge, as we were being hunted,” said Alabama defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan. “With all the things that Ole Miss was saying, we took it personal and we wanted to come out and dominate the game and the line of scrimmage.”
Saban knows that the game wasn’t perfect, the team is not without flaws. But he was positive after the game and knows it’s a sure sign of improvement.
“I was really excited and pleased with the job our team did, the way they hung in there in the game,” Saban said. “You can be critical about a lot of things, but if you’re critical it’s only because you have expectations for something that this team still needs to improve. I think everybody is committed to trying to do that.”
After ups and downs, this year’s Alabama team may have found its identity, which should have been evident the entire season, according to Pagan when he was asked how the Crimson Tide was able to win.
“It was just coming together as a team – playing team football,” Pagan said. “Alabama football.”