But, thanks to the defense, Ole Miss only trailed 16-3 at halftime.
"I think we gave a lot of effort," sophomore linebacker D.T. Shackelford, who had seven tackles, said of the defense. "We didn't quit."
Defensively, Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2 SEC) played its best game of the season, though the scoreboard, a 23-10 Alabama win, wouldn't indicate it. The second half, for the most part, was the same. Alabama (6-1, 2-1) held the ball enough to make its lead stick, the final outcome never really threatened.
Ole Miss' offense tried every trick in the book to score points, its defense offering opportunity after opportunity. The Rebels attempted a failed onsides kick. They even went exclusively to the no-huddle in the second half. Still, Ole Miss, who entered the game as the conference's No. 1 scoring offense, managed a measly 10 points.
"They had our number a couple of times (in the first half)," senior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli said. "We have to make some plays. We had a couple of miscommunications with our receivers. That first drive, we really could've gotten going, but just a miscue."
Ole Miss had more penalty yards (68) than total offense in the first half. If not for the defense, honestly, the Rebels wouldn't have had a chance to make this game respectable.
"(The defense) did a good job of limiting those guys," Masoli said. "They only had that one big play (against them). You couldn't have asked for better defensive play tonight."
Ole Miss matched its first-half first-down total (2) on its opening drive of the second half. The Rebels used nine plays to cross midfield for the second time in the game, but were forced to punt. Ole Miss finished the game with 234 yards of total offense, compared to 319 by Alabama.
The 243 total yards marked Ole Miss' lowest offensive output since the last time it played Alabama, a 22-3 loss in 2009.
"I was very proud of our defense," sophomore wide receiver Melvin Harris said. "They kept us in the game. They fought hard for us. They kept the energy up on the sidelines. I give all credit to the defense for coming out and being ready for this game."
Then came the back-breaker, the play that all but ended the game. Ole Miss' defense had forced Alabama into a third-and-13 from its own 15 midway through the third quarter. What followed was an 85-yard screen pass to Trent Richardson for a touchdown.
One enormous blown assignment. One. But a simple defensive mistake was all it took.
Alabama held a 23-3 advantage with 7:22 to remaining in the frame. The Crimson Tide needed only to grind away at the game clock, allowing some 100,000 fans in attendance to waive their white pom-poms and savor a soon-to-be bounce-back win.
"We played tough," defensive end Gerald Rivers said. "We played real well throughout the game. But like (Ole Miss head) Coach (Houston) Nutt always tells us, there's four or five plays in a game that can really change it. We've got to make those four or five plays."
There were times when Masoli literally took the snap from center and ran somewhere, anywhere for room to throw. The senior quarterback worked mostly from the shotgun simply because he needed all the extra space he could muster.
"We all just had that feeling that a big play was going to pop," Masoli said. "They didn't. You have to give credit to Alabama. We had some miscues that we really can't afford when we're playing a good team."
Masoli and the offense engineered one touchdown drive in the game, a 10-play, 71-yard effort in the third quarter. The score stood as the final points for either team. Alabama ran out the clock after a final, last-gasp Ole Miss offensive possession.
"The objective of the game is to win, but you try to find the good out of whatever you did," Shackelford said. "I felt like we didn't quit. We didn't quit as a team. When you put it all together, we're a team. We're in this together."