By John Zenor
AP Sports Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama responded to a week of soul-searching with a dominating defensive performance against Mississippi.
The Crimson Tide’s offense didn’t jump on the Rebels early, but Alabama turned to its ground game in the second half after the sluggish start.
T.J. Yeldon rushed for 121 yards, Kenyan Drake gained 99 and the top-ranked Crimson Tide’s defense smothered normally high-octane No. 21 Mississippi in a 25-0 victory on Saturday night.
The Tide (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) regrouped after a lackluster effort against Colorado State that prompted several team leaders to speak up and a series of one-on-one chats with coach Nick Saban during the week. Saban had said Alabama players were feeling “overwhelmed with expectations.”
The result was an SEC West matchup that turned increasingly one-sided, with the Tide outgaining the Rebels (3-1, 1-1) 434-205 in total yards.
“It’ll be huge for the confidence of our players,” Saban said.
Yeldon scored on a 68-yard run and Drake added a 50-yard scamper to revive a struggling running game that came in ranked last in the league.
Ole Miss was seeking its first 4-0 start in 43 years and a statement win. Instead the Rebels were shut out for the first time since Arkansas did it in November 1998 and dropped their 10th straight game to the SEC West power.
AJ McCarron completed 25 of 32 passes for 180 yards with an interception for Alabama, which had a second-half resurgence offensively. The Tide was held to 36 rushing yards in building a 9-0 halftime lead but gained another 218 on the ground before it was over even without center Ryan Kelly.
Saban said Kelly will miss two or three weeks with a knee injury.
Bo Wallace was 17-of-30 passing for 159 yards for the Rebels. Wallace had said early in the week that he believed “we can put points on anybody.”
Alabama players took umbrage to a seemingly innocuous comment.
“We really wanted to stay in the game the whole time, especially after all the talking they did,” linebacker C.J. 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.”
The Rebels’ fast-paced offense came in averaging 38 points and 490 yards, but never got going and managed just 46 yards on 25 rushes. Mosley made a tackle in the end zone in the fourth quarter for a safety, and Drake’s 50-yarder came on the next play.
Jeff Scott, who was averaging 110 yards a game and 9.4 per carry, was held to 28 yards on eight attempts.
“They totally took it to us,” said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who couldn’t recall a time when his offense had been shut out. “We did not have answers to what they were doing to us defensively. We gave up some explosive plays, which you can’t do.
“They had the right call every single time, it seemed like. Not what I anticipated happening tonight.”
Alabama’s more plodding style helped the Tide monopolize the ball for 38 minutes, 29 seconds.
Yeldon, who had 17 carries, breathed life into the running game on the second play after halftime. He burst through the line and spun away from a defender before winning a footrace to the end zone for a career-long 68-yard TD.
The performance came a week after McCarron, Mosley and Vinnie Sunseri addressed the team. Then Saban, held individual meetings with players during the week.
None of the talking paid immediate dividends on the scoreboard. Alabama’s offense repeatedly stalled but Cade Foster hit field goals of 28, 42 and a career-long 53 yards.
His 42-yarder came on the final play of the half after Ole Miss helped Alabama move downfield over the last 3:09 with a pass interference penalty and two timeouts, hoping to get the ball back.
The Rebels had several gambles fail, converting just 1 of 4 fourth-down tries.
They had a chance to close the gap early in the fourth quarter when Cody Prewitt intercepted McCarron’s pass at the Alabama 31. It was McCarron’s third interception of the season, matching last year’s total.
The Rebels made it to the 13 and got another shot thanks to a false start before Wallace’s fourth-and-5 pass fell incomplete. Coach Hugh Freeze went for it again, but Deion Belue broke up the throw headed toward the goal line.
“Our bread and butter, they stopped it,” Wallace said. “No doubt in my mind it was good to go for the first downs. In the red zone we have to do better.
“We had a chance. It was frustrating.”