No, the game you watched on Saturday wasn’t a replay of Ole Miss-Florida State, though I can understand why you were confused. For the second time in three weeks, a sharp Rebels offense capitalized on mistakes by its top-five opponent to build a three-touchdown lead in the first half. For the second time in three weeks a late second-quarter touchdown drive fed momentum to the opponent, and for the second time in three weeks Ole Miss came unraveled in the second half.
Twelve days after the Rebs blew a 22-point lead to No. 3 FSU (who was embarrassed by Louisville on Saturday), they coughed up a 21-point lead and lost to No. 1 Alabama, 48-43, in Oxford, ruining what began as a very real shot to three-peat the Tide.
Not that it wasn’t an exciting end. Down 48-30, Chad Kelly led a late drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Damore’ea Stringfellow with just over three minutes on the clock. On the first play after the Rebs recovered the onside kick, Kelly bombed out a 37-yard touchdown to A.J. Brown to make it 48-43.
Kelly finished 26-of-41 for 421 yards, three touchdowns and one pick.
Bama’s run game, which came into the game struggling but found traction in the second half, then picked up a pair of first downs to run out the clock and preserve the win.
If you’re wondering about the historical significance of Ole Miss’ two 20+ point stumbles, you’re not alone.
Ole Miss is the FIRST Power 5 team in the last 10 years to blow two 21-point leads in the same season, per ESPN research.— Dari Nowkhah (@ESPNDari) September 17, 2016
Things got off to a brilliant start for Ole Miss, which accelerated out of the gates with a seven-play touchdown drive. A field goal, a 63-yard touchdown strike to Evan Engram and a stunning sack-fumble later, the Rebs led 24-3 with just under three minutes before halftime.
Then things got bad.
In a moment that dragged up memories of FSU’s key scoring drive late in the second quarter in Orlando, Bama cruised downfield in three plays for a touchdown, making it 24-10. Conservative play-calling from Hugh Freeze led to a three-and-out, and with just over a minute left, the Tide housed an 85-yard touchdown to cut it to within one score. The Rebels’ first possession of the second half ended with a sack-fumble of Chad Kelly taken back for a score to tie the game at 24 all.
When the dust settled, Bama had scored 21 unanswered points in less than six minutes of game time.
The second half was a classic Nick Saban grind ‘em out. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, who came in averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, repeatedly burned the Rebels around the edge, leading a pair of touchdown drives in the second half to put Bama up, 41-30. Hurts finished the day with 146 yards on the ground (but only 158 through the air). Bama running back Damien Harris averaged 9.0 yards per carry thanks to a 67-yard touchdown burst in the third quarter.
The critical moment came with five and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter. Kelly was hit while delivering a pass that fluttered into the hands of Bama D-lineman Jonathan Allen, who romped 75 yards the other way for a pick-six and a 48-30 lead.
The Rebels drop to 1-2 on the season, with a home tilt against No. 16 Georgia on the immediate horizon.