By Scott Latta, UA Media Relations
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. ?? Trailing 14-10 at halftime, the Alabama defense intercepted two Duke passes in the second half and held the Blue Devils to just 47 second-half yards, as the Crimson Tide recorded a 30-14 win Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
On Duke’s first possession of the second half, Alabama senior Ramzee Robinson stepped in front of a deflected Thaddeus Lewis pass, giving Alabama possession on the Blue Devil 40-yard line. Nine plays later, Alabama sophomore John Parker Wilson found junior receiver Keith Brown in the end zone on a nine-yard touchdown pass, Wilson’s second of the night, to give Alabama the lead for good, 16-14, with 9:23 left in the third quarter.
“We weren’t playing how we are capable of playing,” said Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula. “Duke has a really good defense that executes well. Offensively they did a nice job with the running game. We were making mistakes, and some of those didn’t have anything to do with Duke. We made a lot of mental mistakes.”
After trading possessions into the fourth quarter, Alabama orchestrated a nine-play, 54-yard drive that started at its own 46-yard line off a Duke punt. The Tide attempted just one pass on the drive, with senior tailback Ken Darby carrying the ball six times for 60 yards on Alabama’s final offensive scoring drive.
A two-yard run from Alabama sophomore Jimmy Johns capped the drive and gave Johns his first career touchdown. Jamie Christensen’s extra point gave the Tide a 23-14 lead with 4:08 left in the game.
Alabama capped its scoring on a 50-yard interception return from sophomore Lionel Mitchell on the next play from scrimmage. The interception, Mitchell’s second of the year and first career touchdown, put the Tide on top, 30-14, with 3:33 left in the game.
“It was good to see the defense come out in the second half and get some turnovers,” Shula said. “We made more plays at the end and got some more touchdowns. Kenneth Darby played well in the second half. We didn’t play as well as we wanted to, but we had some individuals step up.”
Wilson was 18-of-30 for 220 yards with an interception and two touchdowns in the game, and juniors DJ Hall and Keith Brown led Alabama’s receivers. Hall caught seven passes for 124 yards and a touchdown??his third straight 100-yard receiving performance??and Brown recorded six catches for 57 yards and a touchdown.
On the ground, Darby carried the ball 18 times for 115 yards??the first time Duke has allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.
“(Darby) showed up tonight,” Wilson said. “We want the ball in his hands because we know we needed to go down there and score and get some cushion. He got the ball in his hands and took control down the field on that last drive.”
The only scoring of the first quarter came on Alabama’s opening drive of the game, when the Tide drove 61 yards in eight plays and took a 3-0 lead on a 37-yard Christensen field goal.
Three minutes into the second quarter, Duke fielded an Alabama punt at the Tide’s 39-yard line and drove the ball into the end zone in seven plays for just its second touchdown of the season. The Blue Devils took the 7-3 lead on a nine-yard Lewis touchdown pass to Eron Riley.
A holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff backed the Tide up to its own 10-yard line to start the following drive. After a 77-yard pass from Wilson to Brown was wiped off by an illegal touching penalty, a late hit from the Blue Devils on third-and-19 kept Alabama’s drive going.
Wilson responded by hitting senior fullback Le’Ron McClain for 26 yards to the Duke 46-yard line, and then found Hall open inside the 10-yard line for 41 yards. On third-and-goal from the four-yard line, Wilson found Hall again in the corner of the end zone. The Christensen extra point gave the Tide a 10-7 lead with 5:33 left in the first half.
Duke answered Alabama’s score with a six-play, 74-yard drive of its own, highlighted by a 33-yard run from tailback Ra’Quan Boyette. Lewis then hit Riley on a 35-yard pass to the Alabama one-yard line.
A five-yard touchdown run from Lewis on third-and-goal put Duke ahead to end the half, 14-10.
“We feel like our defense, no one should score on us,” said Tide junior Wallace Gilberry, who recorded four tackles in Saturday’s win. “Coming out after two losses, we were kind of pumped up. We needed to get some aggression out, but at the same time, Duke is a talented team.”
Alabama returns to SEC play next week when the Tide hosts the Ole Miss Rebels Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.