Ole Miss football couldn’t hang on down the stretch and fell 63-48 in a hard-fought, back-and-forth battle with No. 2 Alabama.
On the tail end of a rainy Saturday, Lane Kiffin led the Rebels out of the tunnel to square off with his former mentor Nick Saban, former offensive coordinator colleague Steve Sarkisian and the No. 2 ranked Crimson Tide in front of a limited-capacity crowd at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The media had hyped up the meeting of minds since the high-profile hire landed in Oxford in December, both coaches had fired jabs with one another throughout the week leading up to the game and the scene was set for a must-watch matchup of two SEC West opponents that share a mutual respect for one another but also hold on to the emotions of the Rebels’ back-to-back upset victories in 2014 and 2015.
Less than one minute into the first quarter, Ole Miss was on the board. Four plays, 75 yards, 54 seconds. Matt Corral found leading receiver Elijah Moore to open the game and then let tight end Kenny Yeboah go to work. The scoring drive was capped off with a beautifully-designed jump pass to the 6-foot-4, 240-pound former Temple Owl for his third touchdown in as many games.
It was the perfect start for Jeff Lebby’s offense, but the tackling struggles continued for the Rebels on the other side of the ball. Alabama evened the score not five minutes later and had an opportunity to go ahead 14-7 after a turnover on downs. Jakorey Hawkins had other plans, however, and ripped the ball from Najee Harris’ arms, forcing the first fumble of the Tide running back’s career and stopping the momentum.
Both teams traded three-and-outs, which was big for Ole Miss. Sam Williams is a serious dude and took quarterback Mac Jones down with one hand to force the punt.
Alabama got the ball back and tied it up, but as a result, Lebby was back at the helm. The pass-happy offensive coordinator switched up the flow and kept the ball on the ground. Ole Miss ran the ball 11 times for 75 yards and a Snoop Conner touchdown.
More important than the points, perhaps, Kiffin did not kick a field goal on 4th-and-1!
Instead, the Rebels hurried to the ball, caught the Tide defense off guard and Conner broke for 26 yards. Lebby rewarded his back and he powered it home a few plays later. The game went tied at 21 into halftime, but the Ole Miss defense was on pace to give up more than 600 yards of total offense to its opponents.
That trend continued as Alabama received the second half kickoff and scored on a 33-yard run from Harris. But Kiffin saw Saban’s four-play drive and raised him one.
After a pair of positive Conner draws, Corral found his tight end streaking for a 68-yard touchdown to cap off the three-play, 79-yard touchdown drive. Yeboah finished the night with six catches for a team-high 167 yards and his two scores.
The Tide answered, but nobody cares so BACK TO POINTS!
On the backs of Thunder and Lightning, Corral and his backfield orchestrated a melodious four-minute masterpiece which Ealy crowned with a cut-back so nasty that the crashing safety should check his britches.
Rinse and repeat, the deficit returned to seven after Harris ended up inside the pylons. It didn’t matter because the Rebel runners were having themselves a night of their own and Snoop-a-loop went up and over to even the ballgame at 42.
After a well-designed onside kick attempt didn’t quite work out for Luke Logan, Harris took advantage of the short field and scored his fourth of five touchdowns on the night to go ahead 49-42. An Ole Miss field goal would make it 49-45 with seven minutes remaining but the Rebels fell one touchdown short to the nation’s second best team in the end. That’s pretty damn good.
The defensive woes proved costly once again, but it was a gutsy performance by a team that wasn’t given a chance on paper. Kiffin and Lebby are unbelievable play callers, Saban was in a mental pretzel most of the evening and there was hardly a moment before the final whistle that didn’t have hope.
Being able to say “maybe next year” with legitimacy is a win in and of itself.