Measuring Stick

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - After No. 1 Alabama derailed No. 21 Ole Miss' five-game winning streak dating back to last year Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, the burning question is where does this Rebel team stand now?

Earlier this week, Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze called the Ole Miss - Alabama match a "measuring stick game."

After the top-ranked Tide shutout the Rebels 25-0 here Saturday night, one has to ask where do these Rebels stand now that they have tasted defeat for the first time since last season?

We'll try to explore that here and now with the aid of a field-level view and listening to remarks from Rebel coaches and players afterwards.

One, the Rebels ain't Alabama - yet. I suppose that's what three out of four national titles and years of top-rated recruiting will do for you.

I watched the Tide warm up closely - going with Freeze's measuring stick theme - and was pretty awestruck. Ole Miss has a lot of good-looking athletes - Alabama has more, quite a few more. Again, years of top-level recruiting has stocked the Tide up impressively.

Two, this venue is as intimidating as any in college football, be damned what you hear. Their crowd responses are orchestrated to draw maximum noise and these fans know when to get into a game - from the opening kickoff until the final horn, and crescendos with the best of them when needed the most.

Three, they have the best field general in the land, A.J. McCarron. If his two national title rings aren't enough, he might just be adding a third in three months for an exclamation point on this statement.

Laquon Treadwell
Associated Press

Four, don't believe the hype about Alabama's defense not being as good as years past. It's malarkey.

Five, on this day, Alabama's Red Zone defense was smothering. There simply was nowhere to go with the ball in tight quarters.

I am a believer in the Crimson Tide's No. 1 status.

But enough about Bama. What about the Rebs?

Well, they certainly got a little dose of reality in that numero uno is quite a piece from being ranked in the 20s.

But having said that, I thought the Rebels, save allowing a couple of explosive plays on defense and just not having the right stuff tonight in the Red Zone on offense, represented themselves, the university and the fan base well.

From field level, the Rebels gave as good as they got from a physical standpoint in a very physical contest.

Ole Miss passed as many big hits as Bama did, it says here. That's certainly a start in closing the gap.

In the first half, the Rebel defense knocked the ball loose three times, but was not able to recover any of them. That's just bad luck.

I'm sure Rebel DC Dave Wommack is going to be disappointed with the two long runs for TDs, but other than that, I don't know too much to complain about on the defensive side of the ball. Alabama had to work for what it got and that was a concern coming into the game. Many felt the Tide would run roughshod over the Rebel defense. Didn't happen.

To put icing on the cake of no breaks, Bama - believe it or not - got called for a hold. Good, right? Well, it would have been had the ref not thrown his flag into the eye of DE C.J. Johnson, who had to briefly come out of the game.

One of those nights. . .

Offensively, the Rebs couldn't buy a break, but in this game, they didn't deserve too many.

Denzel Nkemdiche made his return against Alabama
Associated Press

They got outplayed. Freeze said it postgame, so did OC Dan Werner.

Bama's plan was to force the Rebs to run inside, playing the perimeter and only putting six in the box most of the time. The Rebs could not run inside, which was disappointing with the numbers on their side.

When they did put some good drives together and got in the Red Zone, they got shut down. You can give some of the credit to Alabama, but some of the blame to the Rebs, according to Werner.

Bottom line, no matter how you dice it or slice it, Alabama, on this night, was better than the Rebels. Right now, two years into this Reb program under Freeze, they are probably better every night, whole truth and nothing but the truth be told.

But having taken Freeze and Werner's lead, and having "scolded" the offense, let me add this.

Tonight, I am discouraged about this particular game.

Overall, I am not discouraged about this team in the least.

Once again, they gave it everything they had for 60 minutes. That's a mantra of pride and character that is the building block and foundation of this program and it was good to see it continue.

Moving forward, with a break here or another momentum play there, this team can beat anyone remaining on their schedule.

Yes, I said it.

None of the players we talked to immediately after the game seemed devastated in terms of this outcome shaking their confidence in each other.

None were denying it was a poor outing, after giving Alabama their due respect, but all were denying there would be carry over.

To wit, when the Rebel defense gave up an explosive play on the opening Bama possession of the second half, this game could have easily turned into the football equivalent a National Geographic documentary of the great white shark feeding on seals.

But this seal bit back, putting itself in position to score a couple of times, forcing a turnover, continuing to play hard and definitely living to fight another day.

No, this one did not turn out like anyone in Red and Blue wanted it to, but as measuring sticks go, it wasn't a terrible experience in many respects.

If the Rebels show the bounce back and resolve I anticipate, the way they did last year, this is going to be a fun season before all is said and done.

They will face no more Alabama's.

It's all about bounce back now.

Here's one hack who's not only expecting it, but predicting it.

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