In a game filled with comebacks and errors by both teams, Alabama outlasted Ole Miss, 48-43, in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams in Oxford Saturday.
In a game of weird occurances, Alabama scored three non-offensive touchdowns; Mississippi twice on the same series had touchdowns called that were wiped out by television replay review, forcing the Rebels to settle for a field goal; and the Rebels had a successful onside kick that resulted in an 8-second TD drive.
Alabama scored two touchdowns in the final 2:10 of the first half, and Ole Miss scored two TDs in the final 2:59 of the game.
As it turned out, Alabama’s winning margin came on a 75-yard runback of an interception. Linebacker Tim Williams hit the arm of quarterback Chad Kelly, and the ball went to 6-3, 291-pound end Jonathan Allen, who took it the distance to make it 48-30 with 5:28 remaining in the game.
At that point, Alabama had outscored Ole Miss by 45-6 since the Rebels had taken a 24-3 lead late in the first half, but it was all the Tide could do to hang on.
No. 1 ranked Alabama ended the two-game Ole Miss winning streak as the Tide improved to 3-0. The Rebels fell to 1-2.
Things should be less frenetic next Saturday. Alabama returns to Bryant-Denny Stadium hosting Kent State. Kickoff against Nick Saban’s alma mater will be at 11 a.m. with television coverage by SEC Network.
If nothing else Saturday, Alabama took a step up in its running game. Bama finished with 48 carries for 334 yards. But the leading rusher wasn’t a running back. Quarterback Jalen Hurts had 18 carries for 146 yards. Damien Harris had 16 runs for 144 yards and a touchdown, Joshua Jacobs 3-33, and Bo Scarbrough 7-13 and a TD. The Rebels had 32 carries for 106 yards, including starting the scoring with a 23-yard touchdown run by Akeem Judd, the first rushing touchdown allowed by Bama this year. Like Alabama, Mississippi’s top rusher was its quarterback, Chad Kelly carrying 13 times for 48 yards.
Hurts completed 19 of 31 passes for 158 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions and was sacked once…a blindside sack where he fumbled and the Rebels picked it up and ran for a touchdown. Kelly completed 26 of 41 passes for 421 yards and 3 touchdowns, but suffered the Allen interception for a score. He was sacked twice, including once by Ryan Anderson, who caused a fumble that was picked up by DaRon Payne and taken in from three yards out. That score early in the second half tied the score for the first time at 24-24.
Calvin Ridley was Bama’s top receiver with 8 catches for 81 yards with Gehrig Dieter getting 2-47 and O.J. Howard 2-44. ArDarius Stewart had four catches but for a total of only 2 yards.
In addition to the touchdown runs of Ridley on a 6-yard jet sweep, one-yard runs by Harris and Scarbrough, and the scores by the defensive linemen – Payne and Allen – the Tide got an 85-yard punt runback by Eddie Jackson, his first game as punt returner.
Adam Griffith was good on all six of his extra point kicks and 2-3 field goal attempts, making from 32 and 30 yards and missing on a 48-yard try.
Even though he had a horrendous 8-yard shank, JK Scott averaged 38.8 yards on five punts.
Reuben Foster led the Tide with 12 tackles, while fellow inside linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton had 7, including a sack and another tackle for loss.
Alabama made a furious second quarter comeback to trail by only a touchdown starting the second half, and Bama was to get the second half kickoff. Although the Tide was unable to sustain a drive for a score, Scott punted the Rebels to their six-yard line. On second down, Kelly was snared by Anderson just outside the end zone and Kelly fumbled. It was picked up by Payne, who made it three yards into the end zone and make it 24-24.
Alabama’s offense failed again to deliver a touchdown drive, but got close enough for Griffith’s 30-yard field goal to give Bama its first lead at 27-24.
The Rebels tied it with a Gary Wunderlich 18-yard field goal at 27-27. It was a bitter field goal for Ole Miss. Kelly’s 32-yard pass to Damore’ea Stringfellow looked like a go-ahead touchdown, but he was ruled down just inside the one. A short run failed to get in the end zone. Then the Rebels suffered a false start and a stop of Kelly by Shaun Dion Hamilton for a loss of two years. On 3-and-goal from the 8, Kelly took it around right end, was hit near the goalline, and fumbled into the end zone where Stringfellow recovered it. But another TV review showed Kelly down at the 1. That forced the field goal.
Bama took the lead for good when Scarbrough got the 1-yard run that was courtesy of his tailback teammate, Harris. Harris had just run for 67 yards to just outside the Mississippi 1 to set up the score, which Scarbrough got on his second try. It was 34-27.
Another Wunderlich field goal cut it to 34-30 early in the fourth quarter.
Bama got a little breathing room when the Tide drove from its 42 to a touchdown in five running plays. Hurts did most of the damage, including a 17-yard scamper to start the drive and a 9-yard gain to set up goal-to-go. Harris took it in from a yard out for a 41-30 Bama advantage.
The next Ole Miss possession ended with the unusual interception and return by Allen and with just under 5 ½ minutes to play, Alabama’s 48-30 lead seemed insurmountable – at least to many of the Rebels fans who began to stream from the stadium.
But Kelly, considered the best quarterback in the SEC, passed the Rebels down to the Tide five and then hit Stringfellow for a TD, making it 48-37.
Remember the giddy feeling of recovering an onside kick in the national championship game against Clemson? Mississippi’s wasn’t that elegant. It was actually misplayed by the Alabama receiving team. But it set the Rebels up at the Tide 36 and Kelly connected with A.J. Brown on the first play for the touchdown. There was still 2:51 to play and the Rebels had cut the Tide lead to five points. (A two-point conversion try was botched by the Rebels.)
Harris’s 17-yard run was key in Alabama being able to run out the final 2:51 and claim victory.
After a half of mosly implosion, defensive lapses and offensive inefficiency, Alabama exploded in the last two minutes of the second quarter to pull to within a touchdown of the Rebels. Ole Miss had built a lead of 24-3, but had a big penalty that helped Bama right the ship with halftime approaching.
Ole Miss had to kick from its 20 after a personal foul during the dramatic John Youngblood recovery of a Jalen Hurts fumble for a 44-yard touchdown play and the 21-point Mississippi lead. When the kickoff went out of bounds, the Tide got to start at midfield.
A Tide offense that had been going East and West and even backwards much of the first two quarters (Bama had six pass completions that went for a total of minus 19 yards), suddenly turned to downfield plays, a 22-yard pass to Calvin Ridley and a 22-yard keeper by Hurts to set up first-and-goal at the 6. On first down, Ridley went on the jet sweep, caught the direct snap from center, and took it around left end for the score to pull Alabama to within 24-10.
After Bama’s kickoff, the Rebels were forced to punt. Eddie Jackson, being used as Alabama’s punt return man for the first time, took the kick at the 15 and then turned into the Eddie Jackson who has had exciting interception returns in his career. He dodged the first Ole Miss wave, started up the middle, cut to the sideline and went to the end zone on an 85-yard touchdown return.
Alabama was mostly back from “Dead and burried! Gone! Gone!” although still behind by 24-17 at halftime.
Ole Miss had opened the game with a precise 7-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Akeem Judd going 23 yards up the middle for a touchdown that took only 1:53. Gary Wunderlich kicked it to 7-0.
Alabama came back and had first down at the Ole Miss 20, but Hurts overthrew a wide open tight end Hale Hentges in the end zone and the Tide settled for a 32-yard Adam Griffith field goal.
Midway through the second quarter, Wunderlich added a 23-yard field goal for the Rebels, but that was almost a win for Alabama. The Rebels had the Tide with its back to the wall after Chad Kelly hit Damore’ea Stringfellow for 44 yards to the Bama 12. It was 10-3.
One of the most disappointing plays of the game for Alabama was the Tide secondary leaving star Mississippi tight end Evan Engram completely uncovered. That was a recipe for a 63-yard Kelly-to-Engram touchdown and a 17-3 lead.
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One of the most discouraging plays of the game was Alabama moving into Mississippi territory, only to have a Rebels defender come through and blindside Hurts, forcing a fumble that was picked up by John Youngblood and returned 44 yards for the TD that gave the Rebels a 24-3 lead.
But the best was yet to come.
Videos by: A.P. Steadham