‘Bama trying to correct second-half letdowns

Published 2:29 pm Sunday, October 19, 2008

TUSCALOOSA – It’s not the worst problem for a team to have, but No. 2 Alabama is going from world beater to survival mode after halftime.

The result is close, nerve-jangling wins like Saturday’s 24-20 victory over Mississippi that was 24-3 by halftime before mistakes started kicking in. So far it has been enough to frustrate coach Nick Saban but not cost the Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) its shot at a perfect season.

‘Bama has followed the script of first-half domination followed by second-half falloff at Georgia and against Kentucky — and now Ole Miss.

“We’re not just focused on winning, we’re focused a lot on how we’re winning,” Saban said. “A big goal for us, and I talked about it at halftime, was to go out and play and do a better job in the second half, and obviously we didn’t do that.”

Alabama (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) held on again, stopping Ole Miss on a late drive across midfield on fourth down to preserve the win over the Rebels (3-4, 1-3). Ole Miss outscored the Tide 17-0 after halftime.

Against Georgia, the Tide raced to a 31-0 halftime lead then escaped with a 41-30 win. A two-touchdown halftime lead turned into a 17-14 scare against Kentucky.

This time Alabama committed two second-half turnovers, allowed a fake field goal for a touchdown and gave up 10 points in the fourth quarter.

“We gave up some plays on defense,” Saban said. “We don’t play with the same intensity. We can’t make the mental errors we make. We need to play more consistently on offense. If you can’t move the ball, that’s what affects the momentum of the game more than anything.”

That means eliminating plays like John Parker Wilson’s interception on a misread coverage in the third quarter, and Glen Coffee’s fumble in the fourth — his second nearly costly fourth-quarter fumble in as many games.

The Rebels weren’t out of it until Jevan Snead’s incompletion on the Rebels’ final drive, a fourth-and-5 play from the Tide’s 43-yard line.

The stats make it plain that the second-half lapse wasn’t a new thing. Alabama has outscored opponents 171-23 in the first half, and hadn’t allowed a point in the opening quarter until an Ole Miss field goal.

The Tide has been outscored 78-55 after the half, largely because of those three SEC games.

“Maybe the other teams just come out a little bit more fired up than us,” Alabama defensive end Lorenzo Washington said. “(Saban’s) upset we didn’t play a full 60 minutes.”

The good news for Alabama is three of its remaining SEC games — at Tennessee and home against Mississippi State and Auburn — are against teams with a combined 4-9 league mark. That makes a Nov. 8 visit to No. 11 LSU potentially loom even larger.

“We have to find a way to strike more consistency for 60 minutes in the game,” Saban said. “That’s going to be critical to us in the future.”

The plays that really irked Saban were what he regarded as unnecessary penalties, including one in the first half.

That was when receiver Marquis Maze celebrated a 26-yard touchdown catch too much and drew a penalty.

“We keep doing stupid stuff,” Saban said. “When you get a penalty for scoring a touchdown, please act like you’ve been there and act like you’ve got enough maturity to say, ‘I’m a good player, I made a good play. Everybody knows it. I don’t need to do all this (stuff) to get a 15-yard penalty.’ Now, we’ve got to kick the ball from the 15-yard line. Selfish, and it hurts the team.”

Washington was flagged for a personal foul for giving Snead a little swipe after he had already released the ball. It didn’t lead to points but helped move Ole Miss from its own 15.

Saban said those type plays reflect a lack of discipline.

“If there’s a common thread,” he said, “I’d say that might be it.”

A common thread for Ole Miss this season has been losing close games. All four defeats in coach Houston Nutt’s first season have come by seven points or less.

Snead passed for 154 second-half yards. The defense held Alabama to 107 rushing yards, less than half its season average.

“I’ll tell you, I think they are going to be a great team, I think they’re really starting to see it and all they need is a little dose and that dose is that win,” Nutt said. “This (Alabama) team is a solid team. Two deep on both sides of the ball.

“I think we can build from it and as long as we keep hanging on the rope, and keep fighting, there’s still a lot to play for.”