Final Game Stats:
"I asked for a review," Saban said. "They said they were going to review it, and I said I want a timeout anyway to make sure. I saw it. I saw the guy running down the field."
When a player runs out of bounds and comes back in he becomes an ineligible receiver and therefore cannot be the first player to touch the ball. That's what happened just before Ole Miss receiver Shay Hodge wrestled the ball away from Alabama defensive back Lionel Mitchell on a fourth and 22 play that otherwise would have set Ole Miss up on the four yard line with seven seconds to play.
Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson and running back Roy Upchurch were on the sideline getting ready for overtime, and they didn't see it. The official whose job it is to watch for such things didn't see it, either. Bama safety Rashad Johnson was on the field, but his eyes were elsewhere, too. Johnson did see Saban's reaction in the immediate aftermath, however.
"He came over to the refs and he was pleading his case," Johnson said. "The refs talked about it and [Saban] called a timeout so they could review it. It was a great call. He saw it. He sees everything out there it seems like."
Ole Miss Coach Ed Orgeron was helpless on the other sideline.
"I didn't get much of an explanation," Orgeron said after the game. "I didn't get a good look at it at all."
When the SEC replay officials in their cloaked, air-conditioned booth in the press box confirmed what Nick Saban already knew, and referee Penn Wagers announced the reversal of the call, masses in the Ole Miss student section launched trash onto the field endangering less fleet of foot reporters standing on the sideline below.
Reporters and fans were in a tizzy after the game trying to figure out exactly what had transpired. Five pre-teen Ole Miss fans taunted Alabama's mascot, Big Al, calling him a cheater.
A statement from the Southeastern Conference issued after the game blamed replay official Doyle Jackson for making the call. In Jackson's judgment, the statement said, "the receiver stepped out of bounds on his own. Also, the replay official ruled the receiver touched the football first, thereby making it an illegal touch."
Saban's watchful eye caught more than the last play, though. It also saw a defense that sorely needs improvement, a non-existent pass rush, and a roller-coaster offense that looked great in the first half, but gave the ball away too much in the second.
"We have to improve on defense," Saban said. "We did a good job today on third down [which had been a major issue in prior weeks], but we gave up too many plays in between."
Those big plays included a fourth and 16 on the final drive and a touchdown play on third and goal from the 17-yard that gave Ole Miss a 24-17 lead. Up three points in the remaining minutes, Alabama tried a fake field goal on fourth and four from the nine and P.J. Fitzgerald was stopped for a loss of five yards.
"We had the fake all day on them and one guy doesn't get his assignment," Saban said in defending the decision. "If we had to win the game in overtime we would have to win the game in overtime. But I agree with you. The fake field goal was a bad call because it didn't work. But the reason it didn't work was because a guy missed an assignment."
Saban called John Parker Wilson's 26 of 40 passing day his best game of the year. Wilson totaled 265 yards in the air and had one pass intercepted on a batted ball.
"He did a great job of game management getting us into the right position and executing the game plan," Saban said. "It's a great win for our team and you've got to give Ole Miss credit for playing a good game."
Saban said much credit for Javier Arenas' 54-yard return set up Alabama's game-tying touchdown was due to Simeon Castille and Kareem Jackson, who were blocking the Ole Miss gunners well enough to give Arenas room to catch the ball and make a move. Arenas himself was surprised Ole Miss kept kicking to him on kickoffs and punts after he'd had such a good day.
"It mad me mad that they didn't respect me when they kept doing that," Arenas, who had six total returns for 147 yards, said. "If they were going to do that, we were going to spin it back on them and shove it up theirs. You know what I mean? We did that as a special teams unit."