By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – The first SEC game at renovated Vaught-Hemingway Stadium had an unfortunate Orlando feel about it.
Mistakes at critical times helped fuel a comeback for No. 1 Alabama, and the Crimson Tide held on for a 48-43 win at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday afternoon.
In a five-point margin of defeat for the Rebels (1-2, 0-1 SEC) Alabama scored three non-offensive touchdowns.
Two turnovers by Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly ended in defensive touchdowns for the Tide, and Ole Miss was not able to score a touchdown from first-and-goal at the 1 when down by three points in the third quarter.
For the second time this season Kelly took responsibility for the loss after the game.
“It’s on me. If I don’t turn the ball over we probably win the game,” he said.
Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC) also scored on an 85-yard punt return by Eddie Jackson that made it a 24-17 game at the half.
“We need to do a better job of helping our young men understand the value of every single play within the course of a game, that they have the same weight,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said.
Ole Miss defensive end Marquise Haynes blasted freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts for a sack and a fumble which John Youngblood returned 44 yards for a touchdown. That gave the Rebels a 24-3 with 2 minutes, 27 seconds left in the second quarter.
Massive mistakes were on the horizon though, and they helped the Tide score two touchdowns in a span of 65 seconds.
Breeland Speaks was called for a personal foul on the Youngblood fumble return. Nathan Noble was already kicking from 15 yards back, and when his kick went out of bounds Alabama got the ball at the 50 and not the 35.
Hurts passed for 22 yards and ran for 22, and on the third play of the possession Calvin Ridley scored from the 6.
Freeze then tried to run time off the clock. The Rebels went three-and-out, and Eddie Jackson returned a punt 85 yards to the end zone, cutting the Ole Miss advantage to 24-17 at halftime.
The Rebels survived Alabama’s opening possession of the third quarter but were punted back to their 6. On second down from the 9 Kelly was hit by linebacker Ryan Anderson on a blitz, he fumbled, and Da’Ron Payne scooped and scored.
Later the Rebels were down 11 when Kelly was intercepted by defensive end Jonathan Allen, who ran 75 yards to the end zone.
Ole Miss was down 27-24 late in the third when a Kelly pass of 32 yards to Damore’ea Stringfellow put the Rebels at the 1. A false start by guard Javon Patterson moved the Rebels back, and they settled for an 18-yard field goal.
Freeze said he felt like the Rebels kept their heads about them throughout the game.
“I thought there was good energy and focus. I don’t think there was a lack of composure. It was more about discipline, eyes not being where they were supposed to be, fitting the right gaps, and offensively we’ve got to take care of the ball. We scored enough points to beat Alabama.”