06 September 2008
It's not often you see a team get shoved around both sides of the ball all night long and still win a 20-6 game that was never really in doubt. But that's exactly what happened Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.
Tulane held the ball 81 plays to Alabama's 49 and gained 317 yards to only 172 for the Tide. But Alabama cashed in on big special-team plays, while Tulane failed to convert numerous scoring opportunities. As a result the home team built a double-digit lead early and, despite Tulane's dominance, neither team looked as if it ever really doubted what the final outcome would be.
The only reason Bama fans were able to appreciate this win at all is because last year's debacles against ULM and Mississippi State have kept the distinction between a bad "W" and an "L" quite sharp in their minds. Even so, flat play and a pair of potentially significant injuries have probably toned down tonight's T-Town partying by at least a hair.
Alabama's offense went straight to hell in a handbasket when Marlon Davis left the game with an undisclosed injury in the first half. Pass protection was sieve-like for the rest of the first half, and although replacement Brian Motley settled down and played much better in the second half, it looks as if losing two starting offensive linemen at once was quite a blow to the offense.
Potentially even more significant, Javier Arenas missed almost the entire second half after taking a bone-rattling helmet-to-helmet shot on a kickoff return. Tulane had no answer for Arenas with the ball in the open field, as he topped Bama's entire-game offensive production with his 212 return yards during little more than one half of play.
Arenas gave Bama the psychological edge early on, with cuts, broken tackles, and flat-out speed spelling a 90-yard punt return TD in the first quarter, and set the Tide up with good field position on punt returns twice more in the first half. Minutes later, Roy Upchurch took a nifty inside route to block a Tulane punt which then took a Sunday hop into the waiting hands of Chris Rodgers for an easy touchdown jaunt. Bama's special team heroics had just given the Tide 13 first-quarter points and they never looked back.
Even though Tulane's offense moved methodically between the 20s all night long, racking up 19 first downs without a turnover, they also missed two makeable field goals, turned it over on downs deep in Tide territory, and failed to convert any of their red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. Alabama's defense, led by a dominant performance from sophomore linebacker Rolando McClain, showed depth and resilience by consistently making clutch plays throughout a very long, and typically hot and muggy, September evening in Tuscaloosa.
McClain made 15 tackles, many of them significant stops in or around the line of scrimmage or in one-on-one open-field situations. He also broke up a pass and stoned pass receivers for short gains on several occasions.
Meanwhile, the Tide offense, hapless most of the night, did manage to chalk up something Tulane never could - a touchdown drive. Starting on their own 23, Bama consumed the last 4:41 of the third quarter with a 10-play, 77-yard coffin-nail of a drive. Wilson was 3-4 for 24 yards and also had an 11-yard run - meaning that he got 35 of his 55 total offensive yards for the game on this one possession - but the drive featured the power running of Mark Ingram, who carried 5 times for 38 yards and racked up the touchdown on a 15-yard jaunt.
That made it 20-3, and even thought the Tide offense returned to its corpse-like state for the rest of the game, the damage was done. Tulane managed to add a 4th-quarter field goal to set the final score, but could manage nothing bigger.