After almost a 12-minute meltdown in the second quarter when Alabama rang up three touchdowns, one on a 99-yard kickoff return and two following Ole Miss interceptions, the 30-point underdog Rebels (3-2 overall, 0-1 in the SEC’s Western Division) showed enough moxie to give Alabama (5-0, 2-0 in the SEC West) its closest call by far this season. "(Alabama) Coach (Nick) Saban told (Ole Miss) Coach (Hugh) Freeze (during the postgame handshake) that we beat them up," said Ole Miss linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, who had 11 tackles, including three for losses, and forced two fumbles. "That was a message we wanted to get across to the nation."
Alabama held Ole Miss to 218 yards (80 rushing on 35 attempts) but gained only 305 yards itself (125 on the ground on 34 attempts). The Tide scored only two touchdowns on offense. Its longest gain was 23 yards on a fourth-quarter run by Eddie Lacy. "I don't think people give Ole Miss enough credit," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "They play hard. They play physical." He wasn't surprised. "Nobody ever listens to me until after the fact," Saban said.
Because the Crimson Tide secondary remains one of the truly elite units in college football. Hugh Freeze has made his reputation as a kind of Air Raid-style fling-it-around guru (just without the Mike Leach connections), but even he couldn't solve the dilemma of how to attack corners Dee Milliner and Deion Belue, safeties Vinnie Sunseri and Robert Lester, and the rest of the Alabama defensive backs. The three interceptions stand out on the stat sheet -- one each by Lester, Milliner, and Belue -- but just as damaging was the meager 4.2 yards allowed per pass. With everything thrown short and underneath (everything that wasn't picked, anyway), it was easy for the Tide to also bottle up the Rebel ground game (2.3 yards per-carry). That Freeze and quarterback Bo Wallace were able to engineer two long scoring drives -- a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the first half and a 16-play, 70-yard march in the second -- without any kind of downfield threat is, frankly, sort of amazing. But Freeze was never really going to be able to challenge the Tide without a difference-maker at quarterback, and with Wallace still more solid than spectacular and change-of-pace QBs Randall Mackey and Barry Brunetti unable to much of anything in the air, the likes of Milliner and Lester were always going to have a field day.
McCarron’s pair of touchdown passes gave Alabama a 27-7 halftime lead. It also continued his streak without an interception to a school record. McCarron passed Brody Croyle’s record of 190 passes in a row without a pick. "We really had high hopes that Amari Cooper would find himself and do the things in the game that we see in practice," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I think that happened today. That’s a guy that can be an explosive player for us down the road."
The No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide raised its record to 5-0 (2-0 in the Southeastern Conference) with a 33-14 win over Ole Miss but did not play to the overwhelming level it had reached in earlier wins. The Crimson Tide generated just two offensive touchdowns, the same as Ole Miss, with the difference coming on special teams, thanks to four Jeremy Shelley field goals and a dazzling Christion Jones kickoff return for a score. "I don't think people give Ole Miss enough credit," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. "They are physical and tough to defend. But nobody listens to me until after the fact. "We need to get better without something bad happening. "Defensively, we were in some tough spots out there, although I thought we got better as the game went on."
The brief seconds of trailing by a single point were a statistical oddity. The fact that Ole Miss had some momentum going was not. Alabama responded to that, forcefully, then seemed to drift again after halftime, raising the question of whether there could be some carryover against better teams coming up after the impending UA open date. Missouri hasn't been great but won on the road at Central Florida on Saturday and may be improving. Tyler Bray looked like he could be a danger to any team - admittedly, including his own - in Tennessee's shootout loss to Georgia. The win over Ole Miss doesn't "prove" how Alabama will respond if it faces road adversity. There is no reason to think the Crimson Tide will panic, but it didn't have time to do so on Saturday night before Jones was in the Ole Miss end zone. Still, Alabama seemed less like a juggernaut than it had for the previous month.
Before Saturday night, the last time the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC) had trailed anybody was the Game of the Century last year against LSU (the first one). Of course, that was before a spunky Ole Miss Rebels team (3-2, 0-1 SEC) took an early 7-6 lead against the Tide with 13:40 left in the second quarter. Hopefully the Rebels savored the feeling, because it didn’t last long. With the Ole Miss sideline still buzzing, Tide receiver Christion Jones took the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown — ticking off just 15 seconds, regaining the lead and killing any momentum the Rebels might’ve had to pull off the upset. "The way he kicked it, it was kind of squibbish, but I think our kickoff team did a heck of a job blocking up front," Jones said. "I think we did a great job standing and doing our assignments. We were trying to get one real bad, and we finally got one when the team focused in on it, and we finally got one return back, so I thank them for the blocks they did."
Against the No. 1 team in the country, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze twice went for it on fourth down. He had his running back take snaps as the quarterback and throw a pass. He got to the goal line against a top-ranked defense and stayed in the shotgun, getting a touchdown out of it. Freeze was not going to go down quietly, and that’s his way. It worked at Lambuth. It worked at Arkansas State. You can doubt if it will work in the SEC, but isn’t that also doubting the hire Archie Manning and Mike Glenn made? This is how Freeze operates, good or bad. He’ll modify and adapt, but he’s always going to have something up his sleeve.
Defensively, we were in some tough spots out there. It was really difficult to sub players. At times, I think we got tired on the longer drives when we couldn't sub players because if they don't sub, you really can't sub because when they snap it quick, you aren't ready. We weren't ready to play when they hit the first big touchdown on their first drive. Guys were still looking at the bench trying to get a signal. We got better as coaches as the game went on. I think the players got used to the pace of the game as it went on, and I think we played a little better. We really didn't get accomplished in the second half what we would have liked to get accomplished in terms of getting control of the game because we went three-and-out. We got the stops on defense but then went three-and-out and never really put a drive together and kicked two field goals. We need to do a little bit better job of finishing games as well.
"They kill you," said quarterback Bo Wallace, who threw two interceptions. "Put a defense in a bad spot. I don’t really have much else to say about. I killed my defense." While Alabama’s top-ranked defense certainly deserves much of the credit for holding the Rebels (3-2, 0-1) to a season-low 218 total yards and 14 points, Ole Miss destroyed several of its own scoring chances. Besides Wallace’s two picks, giving him six for the season, running back Randall Mackey added another when he took the snap and tried to throw it deep to receiver Donte Moncrief. "Two of the picks we had the flats wide open," coach Hugh Freeze said. "They carried (safeties) with both verticals (routes). ... We got to coach them better to keep us on schedule."
Bottom line is Alabama is really good on defense, probably the best the Rebels will face. The offensive short-comings were more about Alabama being Alabama than the Rebels stopping themselves as they occasionally did against Tulane. More Saban: "We really only had one true drive, and turnovers were the difference in the game."
AJ McCarron threw a pair of touchdown passes to Amari Cooper and No. 1 Alabama handled Ole Miss, 33-14, on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. McCarron completed 22-of-30 passes for 180 yards without an interception and Cooper finished with 84 yards on eight catches for the Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC). "Coop did an excellent job for us running the right routes and being on time," said McCarron. "We had good chemistry the whole night, so we definitely were good in that area."
Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack admitted last week he would have to get bigger in the box against Alabama. He did, abandoning his base 4-2-5 defense for long stretches of the game in favor of a more traditional 4-3 defense. Alabama ended up rushing for 134 yards on 24 carries against Ole Miss’ defense, which gave up 354 yards on the ground to Texas while playing the 4-2-5.
The Tide gave up two long touchdown drives, and that was alarming, but it didn’t allow much else. The Rebels gained 80 yards rushing on 35 attempts and 218 total yards. Three second-quarter interceptions sparked the Tide. Grade: B
Wallace didn't mince words when he talked about the impact of the Rebels' turnovers. "They kill you," he said. "They put our defense in a bad spot. "I don’t really have much else to say about it. I just killed my defense." What's up with playing three quarterbacks? "It depends on the game plan," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "We had that plan. We wanted to get into that Mackey stuff a little earlier and we thought we had some good stuff. There at the end, we popped a good run with him.
"We probably have a team that doesn't have as many defined stars as what we've had in the past," Tide coach Nick Saban said. "Of course, you guys define them, so it's not my doing, but we have had a lot of guys who have had a lot of opportunity to play, which is a good thing. Some of those guys have contributed, and because of their contributions they've had an opportunity to improve. "Hopefully we will continue to have a lot of guys who can make contributions on both sides of the ball, so I think that's probably a good thing."
"Coming in for the return, I kind of wanted to change the atmosphere of the game, the flow of the game," Jones said. "In my mind I was thinking, 'Let's go ahead and get this one to the house.' " Jones' return settled an anxious crowd and propelled a worn-out defense. Adrian Hubbard and Dee Milliner combined for a sack on the Rebels' next possession, and Milliner followed that with an interception on the following play, picking off a pass from quarterback Bo Wallace. Milliner said it felt odd to play from behind. It was the first time Alabama had trailed in regulation since Tennessee sent a field goal through the uprights with 3:58 left in the first quarter last season. That streak spanned more than 40 quarters of play. "We knew that we would have to overcome adversity in the game, and I felt like we did that," Milliner said.
After watching the Crimson Tide defense give up two long touchdown drives to Ole Miss, there will undoubtedly be talk of future UA opponents going up tempo. Understandable, considering the Rebels put together what were perhaps the two most impressive scoring marches against the UA defense since the 2010 season. As for how those drives succeeded, I didn't think it was so much the pace at which the Rebels worked as it was where they went after Alabama. Given Ole Miss' personnel, the Crimson Tide knew the perimeter was where it would be tested. And while UA answered the bell on occasion, holding the Rebels to a season-low 80 yards on the ground, the play wasn't stout enough on the edge to make you forget about Courtney Upshaw and Mark Barron just yet. When Ole Miss needed it the most, they looked to the outside -- and more than once they got what they needed. That said, other than a deep ball from Bo Wallace to Donte Moncrief in the opening quarter, Alabama's corners and safeties played the intermediate to deep passing game pretty well, picking off three Ole Miss passes in the opening half. Ultimately, an area where some felt the Crimson Tide might be lacking (defending the vertical passing game) turned out to be a strength against the Rebels, while some questions on the perimeter went unanswered.
The University of Alabama trailed for the first time all season when Ole Miss scored a touchdown early in the second quarter, but the Crimson Tide answered with two quick scores and held off the Rebels to win 33-14 Saturday night. The offense looked efficient but not outstanding. The Tide never hit on the big play they’ve become accustomed to this season. Still, it was a coming-out party for freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper, and quarterback AJ McCarron was sharp yet again for the Tide. Alabama’s defense gave up 218 yards to the Rebels’ up-tempo offense, but it continued to force turnovers with three interceptions. On the season, the Tide have forced 15 turnovers while giving the ball away only twice.