OXFORD – The Ole Miss coaches stressed all week the need for perfection against No. 3 Alabama. That goal may change to mere functionality with an offensive rebuilding job ahead.
The No. 21-ranked Rebels got a winning effort from their defense, but just 212 yards and 21 minutes, 41 seconds of possession time from their offense in a 22-3 SEC defeat before a Vaught-Hemingway Stadium record crowd of 62,657 on Saturday afternoon.
As five Ole Miss turnovers helped keep Alabama in good field position, the Rebels forced the Crimson Tide to settle for five field goals from kicker Leigh Tiffin covering distances of 25, 21, 22, 21 and 31 yards.
The Rebels (3-2, 1-2 SEC) began the day having committed nine turnovers this season.
What the defense didn’t do was score, and neither did the offense, except for a 25-yard field goal by Joshua Shene. It was the fewest points scored by a Houston Nutt-coached Ole Miss team. It is the first time the Rebels have been held without a touchdown since a 17-3 loss at Auburn in October of 2007.
Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead tied a career-high with four interceptions and missed open receivers when the game got away from the Rebels in the first half. He completed just 11 of 34 attempts for 140 yards.
“We just pressured him, but you have to. You can’t just let him sit there, because he can throw it. We couldn’t get to him every time, but were able to do it for the most part,” said Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas, who yanked an apparent reception away from Ole Miss receiver Shay Hodge in the second quarter.
The pick, Snead’s second, led to a 21-yard field goal by Tiffin and a 6-0 lead with 5 minutes, 57 seconds left in the first half.
“We knew he (Snead)would get rattled easy and that he doesn’t trust his offensive line,” Alabama linebacker Eryk Anders said.
Snead has struggled to find the form of 2008 that had him mentioned in Heisman Trophy conversations this year.
Nutt said he saw warning signs in the summer.
“There was just more of everything in August … more interviews, more pictures, more interest. There was a lot more on him, and in this league, with the speed, it happens so quick.”
Now Nutt’s challenge is getting his quarterback back to the level he showed in the last three games of 2008 when he had nine touchdown passes and only two interceptions.
“It’s completions. He’s got to have completions. We have to design some things to get him the completions early in games like he had against Vanderbilt last week,” Nutt said.
Ole Miss was also unable to mount a run game against the nation’s No. 4 rush defense.
A week after Kentucky posted 133 yards on the ground against the Tide, Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC) held Ole Miss to 72 yards on 23 carries.
The Rebels got consistent pressure on Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, sacking him twice but hitting him many others.
Getting in range
McElroy’s success rate wasn’t all that special either, but he got the Tide in field goal range enough to take control of the game in the first half. He finished 15-for-34 for 147 yards. The Tide’s longest pass gain was 16 yards.
Alabama got 60 of its 200 rushing yards in the fourth quarter.
The lone touchdown of the game came when Tide tailback Mark Ingram found a crease on the left side, burst through it and ran 36 yards to the end zone. The play came on fourth-and-inches after the Ole Miss defense had just held Alabama to a 22-yard field goal after the Tide blocked a punt and took possession at the Ole Miss 5.
“I was surprised at the play they ran on the touchdown. You’re thinking quarterback sneak then,”Rebels defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. “We brought pressure up the middle, and they pitched it outside. The bottom line is when you play Alabama you have to stop the run. They had more success running the ball than we would have hoped.”
The Rebels showed more life on offense in the second half, but the turnovers continued. Ole Miss was at the Alabama 10 when cornerback Kareem Jackson stepped in front of Shay Hodge on a slant pattern for the pick, the fourth of the day.
Ole Miss drove 60 yards for its only points. Shene’s kick came with 7:49 left in the third and made it 16-3. The Rebels seemed to be building some momentum.
The Rebels’ defense forced a punt after four plays, but McCluster fumbled it. Alabama drove to the Ole Miss 4, and Tiffin’s fourth field goal made it 19-3 with 1:03 left in the third.
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal