Optimism was at a high in Oxford Saturday afternoon for the Ole Miss Rebels to make a statement to the college football world, if they could somehow get a win of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Why wouldn’t they be confident and optimistic? After all, they are responsible for two of the three losses that Alabama has suffered in the last two seasons came at the hands of Ole Miss. What were the key to those Ole Miss victories? Turnovers. Head Coach Hugh Freeze felt if they could get Alabama to turn the ball over and get pressure on the young quarterback Jalen Hurts then they would have a good chance of making it three straight against Nick Saban.
The Rebels started fast, courtesy of a 7 -play, 75-yard drive in less than two minutes, capped by a 23-yard touchdown run by Akeem Judd. Quarterback Chad Kelly, who was going to be the key for the Rebels success, started the game well on that drive going 3-for-4 for 47 yards. Now it was just up to the defense to do its part in maintaining the pressure. They were able to accomplish that with a bend but don’t break performance on Alabama’s initial drive that went 17 plays, 61 yards and took up almost half the quarter but it resulted in just three points.
It appeared that the game was beginning to unravel for the Tide during a three minute stretch in the second quarter. Chad Kelly was able to find his big play tight end Evan Engram all alone down field for a 63-yard touchdown. Bama quarterback Jalen Hurts was sacked and stripped by defensive tackle Breeland Speaks, then scooped up by John Youngblood who ran it back 44-yards for another Ole Miss touchdown to give them a 24-3 lead
Coach Freeze has to figure out what is going on with his team when they get a good lead before halftime. Yet again, they failed to close a half strong after surging to a big lead. It happened several times this season, the worst being against Florida State in opening week action.
On the ensuing drive after the turnover, Alabama responded with a 3-play drive resulting in a 6-yard touchdown run byCalvin Ridley. Things only got worse for Ole Miss from there, they punted on their next drive. Alabama took the punt back 53 yards for another touchdown to close the lead to seven before the end of the first half.
Turnovers really can really change a game, but it’s even worse when those turnovers result in points. There were 14 points scored by the Alabama defense due to pressure put on Chad Kelly. A strip sack by defensive end Ryan Anderson deep in their own territory that was recovered by Da’Ron Payne and ran in for a touchdown.
Down 11 in the second half, Kelly’s elbow was hit by defensive end Tim Williams to make the pass go awry and found its way in the hands of Jonathan Allen. Armed with a convoy of teammates, he was able to return it for a touchdown. A 21-point lead was wasted and Ole Miss soon found themselves down by 18.
The Rebels didn’t quit, but the whole that was dug proved to be far too deep. Ole Miss was able to score twice within a five minute stretch, recovering an onside kick at one point. There wouldn’t be a second onside recovery and Alabama held on for a 48-43 victory.