Akeem Judd/Petre Thomas

Ole Miss raced out to another three-touchdown lead, but the Rebels again couldn't hold on, this time falling to Bama

If the Ole Miss Rebels have proven anything through three games in 2016, it’s that they certainly know how to blow a three-touchdown first-half lead.

Two weeks after jumping ahead of Florida State, 28-6, only to lose 45-34, Ole Miss followed a similar script against No. 1 Alabama. The Rebels led 24-3 with 2:47 showing in the second quarter, but back-to-back Crimson Tide touchdowns — including an 85-yard punt return by Eddie Jackson — sparked 24 unanswered points for Alabama, allowing the Crimson Tide to overcome the largest deficit in Nick Saban’s 10 years as head coach.

The Tide (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) went on for a 48-43 win.

“I’m really proud of the effort of our football team,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. The Rebels are the first Power Five team in 10 years to blow two 21-point leads in a season.

“We’re so short-handed on defense right now, and for the effort they gave, I’m real pleased. Give credit to them. They’re a fine football team. We couldn’t stop the run, and we’re not very good on third down on either side. We’re playing a lot of young kids in a lot of areas. They competed.” 

Through two quarters, Ole Miss (1-2, 0-1) didn’t look the part of a double-digit underdog. Alabama was a 10-point favorite entering play, but the Rebels struck first on a 75-yard scoring march to open the game, capped by a 23-yard touchdown run by running back Akeem Judd. A fumble recovered for a touchdown by John Youngblood in the second quarter handed Ole Miss its 21-point cushion.

Alabama, though, was too much. The Crimson Tide scored 21 points in just 5:23 of game time from the end of the second quarter and into the third, out-gaining the Rebels, 69-14, in total yardage. In all, Alabama finished with 492 yards of total offense compared to 527 for Ole Miss, but its 334 rushing yards were easily a season-high.

Now the Rebels are left to answer questions about their second major collapse in as many weeks and to pick up the pieces with another ranked opponent, Georgia, set to visit next weekend.

Freeze said postgame Ole Miss will have to “continue to look at what we’re doing” in assessing how the team handles the final two minutes before halftime.

The Rebels attempted to take their 14-point lead to the locker room with but a minute and a half until intermission. They ran twice with Judd, and a designed pass for quarterback Chad Kelly on third down resulted in a minimal gain. Kelly even stepped out of bounds to stop the clock. 

What followed was Jackson’s special teams heroics that, ultimately, changed the game, and Alabama added insult to injury and tied the game with a hit and fumble of Kelly — recovered by Da’Ron Payne for a six — at the Ole Miss 1-yard line early in the third quarter.

Kelly completed 26 of 41 passes for 421 yards, three touchdowns and an interception returned for a score. He now has a passing touchdown in 16 consecutive games, matching Eli Manning (2000-02) for the longest streak in Ole Miss history.

“You depend on the leadership in the locker room, for sure,” Freeze said, when asked of the team approach to a second difficult loss. “Our coaches, we’ll rebound. We understand we get judged in this arena by what the scoreboard says. But we’ll get up tomorrow and know the mission is the same. I think we’re competing at a high level. The schedule is a tough one. Injuries haven’t been our friend, either. Next man up. We’ll be excited to get them in here tomorrow and put this one in the trash and get ready for Georgia.”

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