Happy Monday, everyone. As you might imagine, plenty has been written about Alabama's stressful win in Oxford. Lots to read this morning:
It started with a penalty in Alabama's lowest moment. After Jalen Hurts' fumble was returned 44 yards by John Youngblood for a touchdown, an Ole Miss unsportsmanlike conduct flag moved the kickoff back. When it was booted out of bounds, Alabama took over at the 50 with no room for error, down 21 for only the second time in Saban's 10 seasons with the Tide.
What followed was three touchdowns in 5 football minutes and 23 football seconds -- one each from offense, defense and special teams. It sucked the life out of the largest crowd to see a football game in the state of Mississippi.
Calvin Ridley 6-yard touchdown capped the short 50-yard drive. Eddie Jackson 85-yard punt return came 65 seconds later following a 3-and-out. Da'Ron Payne scooped a fumble for the equalizing touchdown just over three minutes into the second half. The 21-point deficit closed that quickly.
The most encouraging thing about this win is the way the entire team pulled together to get it done. This would not have been an inexcusable loss in terms of the playoff conversation as Ole Miss is far better than their current #23 ranking and will probably take higher ranked Georgia to the woodshed this weekend. It would have been easy for the team to think that it simply wasn't their day following the fumble return that put the team in a 24-3 hole. Instead, the offense got going and the senior leaders on defense made huge plays to take the game over.
With all three timeouts remaining, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze opted to kick deep instead of trying another onside kick. Alabama, which averaged 7.8 yards a carry in the second half, would try to run out the clock on the ground. After Damien Harris ripped off a 17-yard run to the Alabama 45-yard line, quarterback Jalen Hurts handed to Scarbrough on first down. Scarbrough gained four yards before he was hit. The ball floated in the air for a fraction of a second and fell, where one of Scarbrough’s teammates jumped on it. Alabama then ran out the clock on a rollercoaster victory.
That fumble was certainly a scary moment in the game as an Ole Miss defender put a hat directly on the football. Thank goodness young freshman Jonah Williams was in the vicinity and paying attention.
ArDarius Stewart, the leading receiver entering the game, left in the first half in Oxford. Saban said it was a sprained knee. "Hopefully he will be back in a couple of weeks," Saban said. Saban also said starting quarterback Jalen Hurts "sprained his wrist a little bit," in the second quarter, but "he's fine."
Saban also said that "they are going to make sure" on Stewart. One would assume that they have done all of the structural tests on the knee, but this is still concerning. The line between a sprain and a tear is a blurry one in many cases, essentially separated by whether the injury requires surgical repair. Hold your breath on this one until we know for sure, but Stewart did seem to be in good spirits while swinging that ax on the sideline.
If any future historian wants to look back and pinpoint the precise moment that the last hint of doubt disappeared, simply direct them to the day's low-tide mark. That came in the second quarter when Hurts took a vicious blindside hit (not his fault, obviously) resulting in a fumble that was returned for a touchdown (and not in a targeting penalty, although it probably should have). That score put Ole Miss ahead 24-3 and probably caused more than a few panic buttons around Alabama to be pressed.
If there was ever a moment that the coaching staff might deem as "too big" for a true freshman, that would be it. Instead, there was no hesitation. Hurts collected himself, probably did a quick count of his teeth and went right back out on the field.
If his goal was to reduce congestion in the middle to open the running lanes between the hashmarks, he accomplished his mission. Yet an NFL scout, who was watching the game, said he couldn't understand Kiffin's strategy.
The absence of downfield passes was befuddling. So too was the tight end O.J. Howard's lack of contributions. He figured to be a matchup nightmare for the young safeties, but he made only two catches for 24 yards. In the end, Alabama's offense still produced three touchdowns and 492 yards.
It is a bit puzzling that O.J. wasn't really involved, but it isn't surprising that Kiffin didn't take more shots considering the results of the shots he did take. Hurts and the receivers have two weeks to work on the timing in the passing game. Look for next week's game to feature a ton of it.
It’s on me," Kelly said. "I gave them a free 14 points just like that. As a quarterback you can’t do that. It stinks that I’m sitting up here saying that again, but I have to correct it because it’s on me. If I don’t turn the ball over like that, we probably win the game." While Kelly was partially responsible for the loss, his turnovers weren’t the only reasons why No. 17 Ole Miss (1-2, 0-1 SEC) blew a 24-3 lead. The defense had difficulty containing dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts, and the offense settled for a field goal with 6:03 left in the third quarter to tie it at 27 despite operating from inside the 5.
Alabama outside linebacker Tim Williams overwhelmed Rebels right tackle Sean Rawlings, forcing Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly to move into the path of linebacker Christian Miller. As Miller and Williams converged on Kelly, the quarterback unloaded a pass that had no velocity behind it. Allen was in the perfect place and he snagged it before racing down the far sideline.
Kelly does a great job extending plays and making something out of nothing. Unfortunately, that comes with a price when you play defenses like Alabama's. AL.com had a great shot of the most exciting play for Alabama fans:
Anderson routinely teases Payne for his size. Payne is known as a run stopper for Alabama, but the 6-foot-2, 320-pound defensive tackle showed off his quick hands and athleticism with a touchdown in Alabama's 48-43 win over Ole Miss.
"I was excited. Then I sat there and thought about it because I'm going to have to hear about that one," Anderson said, laughing. "I always say he ain't athletic. When we go out there on third down in our dime rabbits, I mess with him like ‘get off the field. Fat boys off the field' and stuff like that. I can't say too much now that he's scored a touchdown."
This team seems to have something special. There is a great mix of young talent and senior leadership that creates a fun dynamic. In hindsight, getting certain malcontents off the roster may well have been addition by subtraction.
Alabama's defense and special teams have now scored five touchdowns, and allowed five. Three of the five allowed have come on "sudden change" situations. Surely they can't score more than they allow for a season, right? We will have to keep this tally going.
With the win, the Alabama coach joined Bear Bryant with 65 victories over opponents ranked in the Associated Press poll. The Rebels were No. 19 on Saturday. Saban also passed Steve Spurrier, who had a .529 winning percentage against opponents ranked in the AP poll.
Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden top the list. With the way Alabama's program has been so consistent in recent years, do you doubt Saban's ability to threaten them if he can put in the time to do so? You shouldn't.
Saban needs 21 more to take the all-time lead in this category. Playing in the SEC, that would only take about three more years...
After surviving Ole Miss, Alabama doesn't figure to be challenged this coming Saturday. The Crimson Tide opened as a 43-point favorite to beat Kent State, according to VegasInsider.com. It's the biggest spread since Alabama was a 45-point favorite to beat Southern Miss in 2014.
Kent State is no Western Kentucky. Look for the Tide to treat this as a virtual bye week in terms of resting players who are even slightly banged up. The second string can beat the Golden Flashes in dominant fashion, and Saban certainly has no reason to run it up on his alma mater.
Yet while all the focus is on the win, I couldn't help but think about the big picture: If the Rebels -- a team that has had success against Alabama -- couldn't beat the Crimson Tide under the craziest of conditions, what chance does anyone else have? Furthermore, are we already at a point where its "Alabama and everyone else" in college football?
That's pushing it considering the way Louisville, Houston, and Ohio State are playing. Lots of football to be played, however. The ACC race is shaping up to be interesting, as it is highly plausible that Louisville could lose at Clemson while Clemson loses in Tallahassee, creating a three-team tie at the top of the Atlantic division. As far as the SEC goes:
After 3 weeks..outside of Bama, A&M, Arkansas, and maybe Ole Miss the SEC looks down big time by their own standards.— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) September 19, 2016
Coming into the season, some were convinced that trips to LSU and Tennessee contributed to a brutal schedule. While the Tide can afford to take neither lightly, those games look very winnable at this point.
Aaron Sterling, a three-star defensive end from Tucker, Ga., has backed off his pledge from Alabama according to ESPN and other reports. ESPN's Gerry Hamilton reported that Sterling visited North Carolina State over the weekend. Sterling's commitment to Alabama came last Christmas Day. He hadn't been mentioned much with Alabama lately, so it's not a shock that he is no longer on the commitment list.
You never want to hear that the Tide lost a commitment, though some in the industry seem to believe that Alabama had backed off on him. Still, defensive line has to be a priority in this class. Next year's freshman kicker looks good though:
The ball just jumps off his foot.
Brian Kelly says "a number of people" manage his Twitter & a staffer inadvertently hit "like" on a tweet suggesting he fire BVG. #NotreDame— Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna) September 18, 2016
Well, that's going to be awkward.
But Auburn, man. There's just no doubt about it after Saturday night. Not fun to watch. That big TV might need to be returned to Best Buy in Opelika, or maybe the 24-hour Wal-Mart Supercenter down on College Street. With this offense that Gus Malzahn has put together, anything that exists to show in-game highlights is worthless.
Maybe Malzahn can pawn it, or trade it straight up with Louisville for quarterback Lamar Jackson's backup. Would Bobby Petrino let his backup quarterback transfer to Auburn for Auburn's 190-foot videoboard? This is the stuff you think about when you're a sportswriter during an Auburn offensive possession. Not Lamar, obviously, because he's worth way more than the $3.5 million Auburn paid for its big TV.
Somebody is about to be excommunicated from The Family.
Last but not least, Kenyan Drake got his first professional score:
Kenyan Drake finds the endzone!! pic.twitter.com/aibV6j44UR— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) September 18, 2016
Roll Tide, Kenyan.
That's about it for today. Have a great week.