TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The 1988 Ole Miss team still owns the school’s only win at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The Rebels were unable to match a competitive defensive effort with meaningful offense before they were three touchdowns behind en route to a 23-10 loss to No. 8 Alabama before a Crimson Tide homecoming crowd of 101,821.
Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2 SEC) managed just 41 yards of offense and was 0 for 8 on third-down conversions as Alabama (6-1, 3-1) moved to a 16-3 lead at halftime.
In perhaps their best defensive performance of the season, Ole Miss held Alabama to 319 yards on 59 plays.
“I thought our guys played hard. The first half was difficult with field position going against a very good football team. And I thought our defense really came to play tonight,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt aid.
While Alabama got enough offense it wasn’t easy, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said.
“We struggled offensively, and we’ve struggled against these guys three years in a row offensively. They take the run away from you and make it difficult to run, and you have to execute in the passing game.”
The Rebels got their only touchdown in the second half but did not mount a serious threat in the final two quarters.
Early in the third quarter Alabama stretched a 13-point lead with an 85-yard screen pass from quarterback Greg McElroy to Trent Richardson.
Ole Miss defensive end D.T. Shackelford was stunting on the third-and-15 play and left open the area to which McElroy passed.
The PAT gave Alabama a 23-3 lead with 7 minutes, 22 seconds left in the period and seemingly sealed the deal with the Rebels struggling on offense.
“I think Ole Miss has a good football team. They play hard, and they’re well-coached. They’re difficult to defend in terms of the offense they run,” Saban said.
Ole Miss played almost the entire game in spread formations without the use of a fullback. Nutt was unable to get his wide receivers involved in the game early.
When Jeremiah Masoli passed 15 yards to Melvin Harris, who carried a defensive back the last yard into the end zone, the third-quarter clock was at 4:40, and the deficit was cut to 23-10.
South Carolina had success with its big wide receiver, Alshon Jeffery, last week when the Gamecocks ended Alabama’s 19-game win streak.
A week later the Tide’s secondary didn’t give up the big plays it did consistently on the road in Columbia.
“Penn State scored three, Florida scored six … this is a tough environment to play in. We needed everybody to be perfect for us to win this game with a young offensive line,” Nutt said. “You’ve got to put points on the board, and we didn’t do that.”
Unable to drive their way out of bad field position in the first half, the Rebels were competitive on defense but let a key play slip away late in the second quarter.
In a 13-3 game linebacker Joel Kight was unable to hang on to an interception that quite possible could have resulted in a touchdown and a 13-10 halftime deficit.
Instead, the Tide got back the field goal it gave up after a special teams turnover when Cade Foster hit from 44 yards, his third field goal of the half, and Alabama led 16-3.
The Rebels’ points came on a 24-yard field goal by Bryson Rose that was set up when Allen Walker forced a fumble by Tide punt returner Marquis Maze, and Marcus Temple recovered at the 21.
Ole Miss had just two first downs and 41 yards at halftime.
Alabama scored the half’s only touchdown on its first possession, set up at the Ole Miss 46 after a 19-yard punt return by Maze.
The drive was kept alive when Ole Miss cornerback Jeremy McGee was called for roughting the kicker on a successful field goal attempt.
Saban took the points off the board and was rewarded when McElroy passed 7 yards to Preston Dial, who lost safety Johnny Brown in the back of the end zone.
Alabama also got field goals of 49 and 19 yards from Foster.
The Tide had the ball for more than 17 minutes in the half but netted just 137 yards.
Ole Miss was called for four personal fouls in the first half.
Ole Miss 0 3 7 0 – 10
Alabama 10 6 7 0 – 23
UA – Preston Dial 7 pass from Greg McElroy (Jeremy Shelley kick), 8:57
UA – Cade Foster 49 field goal, :58
UA – Foster 19 field goal, 5:32
OM – Bryson Rose 22 field goal, 1:28
UA – Foster 44 field Goal, 0:00
UA – Richardson 82 pass from McElroy (Shelley kick), 7:14
OM – Melvin Harris 15 pass from Jeremiah Masoli (Rose kick), 4:40
Records: Ole Miss 3-3, 1-2 SEC; Alabama 6-1, 3-1
PARRISH ALFORD / NEMS Daily Journal