Alabama Dominates Southern Miss In Final Tune-Up Before SEC Opener
Three games up, three games down.
It was almost as easy as said as that for No. 3 Alabama, which concluded its three-game, non-conference tour ahead of its Southeastern Conference schedule starting next week, with a 52-12 drubbing of Southern Miss at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.
The Crimson Tide compiled 547 yards of total offense, including 333 yards on the ground, but it didn’t come as quickly as one might expect against a team that was on a 23-game losing streak before its regular season finale last season. In fact, Southern Miss led 3-0 early on after kicking a field goal on the opening drive of the game.
“I thought we got off to a really slow start today,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I didn’t think we had very much intensity to start the game. I don’t quite know why. We had a tough, good week of practice but it just seemed like the longer we waited to play, the more casual everybody got.”
Alabama responded with Blake Sims’ 22-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper on the next drive, but it wasn’t until deep into the second quarter that the Crimson Tide built up a sizeable lead at 21-3. It was 21-6 at halftime.
Sims, making his third start in three games this season, completed 12-of-17 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 46 rushing yards and one touchdown scored from four yards out in the second quarter. Jake Coker, who has been locked in a quarterback battle with Sims since his arrival from Florida State this summer, did not play until the 2:10 mark in the third quarter with Alabama up 35-9.
Coker finished with 46 yards on 5-of-7 passing. On his first drive, he helped lead the Crimson Tide to a 99-yard scoring drive.
“Right now, Blake is probably a little more confident,” Saban said. “So if that remains that way he's probably going to start the (Florida) game. He's started every game so far. But we have a lot of confidence in Jake I just think that Jake needs to play.”
Cooper was again Sims’ favorite target, catching eight passes for 135 yards and the game’s opening score. With his first reception of the game, Cooper passed Alabama great Ozzie Newsome (2,070 yards) for third all-time on the Crimson Tide’s career receiving yards list. His next catch, his touchdown reception, tied him with DJ Hall for second in school history in touchdown catches with 17.
“It’s always good to know that you have a guy that’s going to run for you,” Sims said. “It really helps when everyone focuses on him you have other receivers to throw to. (Amari) Cooper does it very well, and he is great team player. He gives extra effort all the time and it’s good to have him and know that you always have someone open.”
After Saturday’s win, Cooper still leads the nation in catches with 33 so far this season. His 454 receiving yards place him in third among all receivers nationally, only 17 yards shy of first. Christion Jones caught four passes for 50 yards, while five other receivers made one catch each.
“I think we need to get more people involved offensively,” Saban said. “Coop’s had a great start here, but we have other guys that are capable players.”
Running back Kenyan Drake scored a career-best three rushing touchdowns on two 1-yard runs and a 29-yarder. Kicker Adam Griffith converted a 30-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to remain a perfect 7-for-7 on field goals this season. No kicker in the nation has attempted more kicks without missing in 2014.
Defensively, Alabama yielded 263 yards to Southern Miss, including 207 through the air from former Spain Park quarterback Nick Mullens.
Alabama added one sack to increase its season total to seven. Last season, it took the Crimson Tide five games before it reached six sacks.
Safety Nick Perry provided the lowlight of the game for Alabama with third-quarter ejection on a targeting foul that will force him to sit out the first half of next week’s SEC opener against Florida.