Alabama was trailing Ole Miss by 24-3 in Oxford Saturday with fewer than three minutes to play in the first half. The Tide got a late second quarter touchdown to cut the deficit, than really got back into the game with a non-offensive touchdown just over a minute from halftime.
Non-offensive touchdowns are nothing new at Alabama under Coach Nick Saban, and it doesn’t come by accident.
“It’s something we work on,” Saban said Monday. “Turnovers are a big part of what we work on, and not only getting the turnover, but returning it (and) how we block them.”
Alabama tied the game early in the third quarter on another non-offensive TD, and then scored the winning points on the third non-offensive touchdown of the game.
The first non-offensive touchdown for Bama came on an 85-yard punt return by Eddie Jackson with 1:05 to play in the second quarter, cutting the Ole Miss lead to 24-17.
On Mississippi’s first possession of the second half, after being pinned down by a punt by JK Scott at the six, Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson stripped Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly near the goalline. The fumble was scooped up by Tide nose tackle DaRon Payne and he put the ball over the end zone line to tie the game at 24-24.
Late in the fourth quarter, Kelly was back to pass and his arm was hit by Tide linebacker Tim Williams. The ball went forward and into the arms of Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen. Allen, 6-3, 291, took it back 75 yards for a touchdown that gave Alabama a 48-30 lead – points it turned out Bama needed to withstand a late comeback by the Rebels.
The play by Allen was initially ruled an interception, but Ole Miss officials later said after a review of the film they were erasing the interception by their All-America candidate, Kelly, and changing it to a fumble, and, therefore, a fumble return by Allen.
No matter. It was a Tide touchdown.
Saban said turnovers have “been very beneficial to us. We’ve scored five this year.
“We want to continue to work and try to develop and continue to get those things and get the turnovers. That's where it starts. And if we can finish them, great. If we can do it on special teams, I think it's a huge advantage.”
Saban also noted that Ole Miss got a non-offensive touchdown against Alabama, a somewhat controversial hit on Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts resulting in a fumble and fumble return for 44 yards that gave the Rebels that 24-3 lead.
So how does it affect a team?
“You have to try to coach your team to play the next play so those things don't affect you. I think that's the one thing that trying to give our team a lot of credit for, they had those things happen and it didn't affect them in the game. They kept playing and executing and got ourselves back in the game. Crazy game. But the only way we stayed in it was because we stayed with it and didn't let those things affect us."
Those three non-offensive touchdowns by Alabama Saturday were the 49th, 50th, and 51st for Alabama in the Saban Era.
Earlier this year Bama got a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown against Western Carolina and Marlon Humphrey had an 18-yard return of an interception for a score against Southern Cal.
Bama’s best year for non-offensive touchdowns in the Saban Era was last year’s national championship year when The Tide had 10 – four interception runbacks, four punt returns, a kickoff return, and a blocked punt for TD.
Alabama had nine in 2008, seven in 2013, six in 2009, five in 2011, four in 2010, three in 2012, and one each in 2007 and 2014.
The total is 21 interception returns, 14 punt returns, six fumble returns, six kickoff returns, and four blocked punts.