Just another routine day for Shaun Alexander, who all of a sudden has to be considered a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
Against one of the nation's best rushing defenses, Alexander ran for 214 yards and three touchdowns as No. 11 Alabama (5-1, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) held off 22nd-ranked Mississippi 30-24 Saturday.
"Right now, I don't think there's a better football player in the country than Shaun Alexander," said Alabama coach Mike DuBose. "You can't put a value on what he means to a football team in a game like this."
"Greatness goes beyond physical skill. Greatness is involved with making the plays at the critical times, finding ways to get the ball in the end zone and getting better as the games goes on," said Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe. "Shaun Alexander does all of those things."
While adding to his Heisman credentials by running for more than 100 yards for the sixth straight game and scoring three times for the fifth time this season, Alexander also reached a couple of career milestones.
Alexander went on to increase his career rushing total to 3,116 yards, becoming the second Alabama running back and 17th in the SEC to surpass 3,000 yards. He also became the Tide's career touchdown leader with 43, including 16 this season (13 rushing, three receiving).
Alexander had two 1-yard TD runs in the first half, the second capping a 99-yard drive, and added a 2-yard score on Alabama's opening possession of the second half as the Crimson Tide won their third straight game since a last-minute loss to Louisiana Tech.
"This was a huge win. I was concerned about coming off the Florida win and the week off," said DuBose, whose team played for the first time since its 40-39 overtime victory over th Gators two weeks ago.
Ole Miss trimmed a 20-point deficit with 17 straight points in the second half, but couldn't get closer and fell to Alabama for the ninth straight year.
After Alexander's 2-yard TD run early in the second half, Kecalf Bailey recovered a fumble at the Ole Miss 27. Three plays later, Ryan Pflunger's 39-yard field goal gave Alabama a 27-7 lead and what proved to be the margin of victory.
Pflunger's 24-yard field goal with 2:15 left capped a 13-play, 74-yard drive that milked more than five minutes off the clock.
Between the two field goals, Ole Miss scored 17 straight points, 10 in just over a minute, to get within 27-24.
"I knew our team wouldn't let up because of their character. They weren't pretending to be in the game. They were there to win," said Cutcliffe, whose team finally gets a break next weekend after seven straight games.
Deuce McAllister made a diving 38-yard catch between two defenders to convert a third-and-6, and four plays later Romaro Miller found Maurice Flournoy for a 6-yard TD with 3:50 left in the third quarter.
Ole Miss recovered an onside kick, but couldn't get another first down after Miller found Corey Peterson for a 35-yard pass on the first play. Les Binkley's 46-yard field goal brought Ole Miss back within 10.
Binkley missed his first field goal attempt of the year early in the fourth quarter, a 32-yarder after Ole Miss stalled at the Alabama 15.
The Rebels finally stopped Alexander on a fourth down, and then cashed in when McAllister ran 22 yards for a touchdown to make it 27-24 with 7:33 left. McAllister converted a fourth down with a 3-yard run two plays before he scored.
"We had our opportunities. We just ran out of time," said Ole Miss quarterback Romaro Miller, who was 15-of-31 passing for 217 yards. "This hurts. I guess the only thing we can count on now is if the SEC West continues to be as wild as it has been."
Alabama then drove for Pflunger's final field goal, and took valuable time away from Ole Miss, which had its hopes for an upset ended when Romaro Miller was sacked on third down and then forced to throw under pressure on fourth-and-17 in the final minute.
Freddie Milons had nine receptions for 133 yards, including three for 49 on Alabama's 99-yard touchdown drive in the first half. It was his third straight 100-yard receiving game, a first in Tide history.
"We have a whole lot of weapons on offense," Milons said. "My role is to keep eight guys out of the box. When they cover us, Shaun makes big plays. When they put eight guys up and cover Shaun, the receivers make big plays."
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