TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- In the state of Alabama, zeros mean something. Winning an offensive shootout isn't what people here like to see. A blank scoreboard, at least on one side of the JumboTron, is a work of art to the Crimson Tide faithful who were raised on dominant defenses.
It's why watching Alabama allow 42 points and a school-record 628 yards two weeks ago to Texas A&M hurt so much. Sure, the Tide remained undefeated despite the poor defensive effort, but the final score just didn't look right. A grinning Johnny Manziel stuck a knife in the side of Alabama's ego. The concern was palpable. The win wasn't what mattered. It was what the defense did.
Even after Alabama beat Colorado State last weekend without allowing a single offensive touchdown, the tension was noticeable. C.J. Mosley, Alabama's veteran linebacker, stepped in front of his teammates and voiced his disappointment, upset with the way they wasn't able to dominate, the way the little errors were adding up. He said that against Ole Miss, playing like that would be unacceptable.
What he said and what his teammates heard throughout the week got through.
No. 1 Alabama responded in a big way Saturday night by dominating No. 21 Ole Miss, 25-0 -- the 11th shutout for Nick Saban at Alabama. The Crimson Tide looked familiar once again, the defense putting a zero on the scoreboard for the first time this season. Fueled by an enormous chip on its shoulder, the defense played with an intensity and a passion that hadn't been around the program all year.
Mosley, usually the quiet, reserved leader on defense, turned boisterous after a slew of key fourth-down stops during the game, jawing and thumping his chest in celebration.
"At the end of the day we're going to play Alabama football," he said. "But when somebody keeps calling you out in your home stadium, you're going to fight back. You're going to put a little bit extra into that game and that play."
Mosley & Co. reveled in holding Ole Miss' offense in check. The zero on the scoreboard was especially savory after all they'd heard from the Rebels camp throughout the week, specifically when Bo Wallace told reporters he was confident his team could score on Alabama.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the Tide's star safety, said those words were taken into consideration.
"He was calling us out, saying he could score points on us and calling out our DBs. We took it to heart."
Said Mosley: "I kept telling everyone, 'Remember what they said. We're trying to play Alabama defense. We want a zero on that board,' And that's exactly what we got."
Ole Miss' offense, which came into the game averaging more than 30 points and 490 yards per game, was at a loss, barely able to muster 200 yards of total offense. The Rebels were held scoreless for the first time since 1998.
"We wanted it really bad," Clinton-Dix said. "It's our first shutout. I think we came out and proved a point today."
The point being that Alabama's defense might be back. A few weeks after being made a fool of by Texas A&M, players were flying to the football and making plays again. The little things that dogged the Tide -- poor communication, missed tackles, etc. -- were noticeably absent.
"We knew this was going to be a dog fight, and we knew it was going to be a tough game," Saban said. "Our players did a really, really good job of being relentless out there with their effort, their toughness, the way they competed in the game."
For Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, it seemed the Tide defense was constantly a step ahead of his offense.
"They did a really nice job of mixing things up, keeping us off balance for sure, and disguising things," Freeze said. "It seemed like every time we thought we had a beat on them, we missed something we thought should have been good and they had it played perfectly. It was a difficult night. They did a great job planning and it’s frustrating.
"We really felt good about our preparation. We felt like we had shot to get this thing deep into the game and be in it, and would have loved to have had that opportunity. We did not have answers to the stuff they were doing defensively. That’s very frustrating and I take that pretty personal."
Saban, for once this season, wasn't in the position of taking things personally. He didn't have to dwell on what went wrong and why his defense wasn't playing up to the standard he'd help set at Alabama. Instead, the Tide came out, put a zero on the scoreboard and was able to focus on what went right and how to get even better.
Like the final score, Saban's tone after the game had a familiar tone. The numbers, he said, didn't matter. How his team played and how they continue to play does, he explained.
"I'm looking more at the standard, not the record. It's important that our players do that."