By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – There was defensive improvement but too many turnovers and too much Alabama for Ole Miss to mount a serious upset threat against the nation’s No. 1 team Saturday night.
Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron was rarely pressured as the Crimson Tide took control in the first half.
McCarron went on to complete 21-of-29 for 165 yards and two touchdowns in Alabama’s 33-14 win before near-capacity crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
While McCarron was efficient, Alabama’s biggest scoring weapon was kicker Jeremy Shelley was 4-for-4 on field goal attempts.
Ole Miss mounted two scoring drives – the second capped by Randall Mackey’s 12-yard run made it 27-14 late in the third — against a defense that ranks in the national top 10 in every statistical category.
The final margin was much different from last year’s 52-7 loss to Alabama in Oxford but was still the 15th-consecutive SEC loss for Ole Miss (3-2, 0-1 SEC).
Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said he believed his defense would perform better against Alabama than it did in a 66-31 loss to Texas two weeks ago. Improvement was evident early on as the Rebels held the Crimson Tide to two short field goals on drives that began near mid-field, one of them at the Ole Miss 44.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the effort from our kids. They laid it on the line against a very talented team, a very physical team. We were short-handed at some spots, and I couldn’t be more pleased,” Freeze said.
Freeze said interceptions thrown by his quarterbacks came when they could have passed to an open receiver for a lesser gain.
“This disappointing thing is that we didn’t do some of the little things to have a chance. Our special teams were atrocious. We turned the football over because of us being greedy, and we didn’t have a good third-down plan on defense,” he said.
Ultimately, he placed blame for the loss and he and his coaches.
“We’ve got to go evaluate all that, because our kids deserved a little better outcome tonight for the way they played. That’s my opinion,” he said.
Alabama finished with 304 total yards, far fewer than the almost 700 amassed by the Longhorns.
The defense was getting no help early. The Rebels did not register their first first down until a pass interference call against the Tide moved the ball to the Ole Miss 33 with less than 2 minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Punter Jim Broadway shanked two punts during that span, contributing to poor field position.
The offense got in gear on a 13-play, 77-yard drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown run from Jeff Scott. The highlight of the drive was a 31-yard pass to Donte Moncrief on a fade.
Alabama – trailing 7-6 with 13 minutes, 45 seconds left in the second quarter — was behind for the first time in a season and a half and responded with 21 straight points, the second touchdown in that stretch set up after a Bo Wallace pass back across his body resulted in an interception and a Crimson Tide first down at the Ole Miss 35.
A 16-yard McCarron to Amari Cooper pass overturned on review resulted in a 16-yard touchdown and a 20-7 Alabama lead with 10:50 left in the half.
McCarron and Cooper teamed up again on a third-and-10 play, Cooper making the catch over Frank Crawford, who turned around too late to make a play. That put the Tide up 27-7 with 2:50 left in the half.
Wallace played the game with a bruised shoulder. Mackey had extensive playing time at quarterback, and Barry Brunetti had snaps there too. Wallace was 15-for-26 passing for 123 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns. He was sacked four times.
Beyond the big gain on the Rebels’ first touchdown drive the Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC) was able to minimize Moncrief, the Rebels’ best receiver.
One of Wallace’s two interceptions and the one thrown by Mackey came in efforts to get the ball to Moncrief.
With Moncrief less of an option, a lot of balls went the wave of Vince Sanders, and he responded with six catches for 43 yards.
Moncrief was held without a touchdown catch for the first time this season.
The Ole Miss offense was held to a season-low 218 yards.
Alabama’s 304 yards were also a season-low. The Tide did not score a touchdown in the second half.
“We were doing a much better job of playing with our eyes, not taking as many false steps,” Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. “It’s a shame to say when you give up 33 points, but I think we got better as a football team tonight.”