TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Ole Miss took a one-point lead early in the second quarter on a one-yard touchdown by junior running back Jeff Scott.
The lead lasted all of 15 seconds, as Alabama sophomore wide receiver Christion Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to regain the lead, and the Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) scored 21 unanswered points in the second quarter on its way to a 33-14 win this past Saturday.
“I’m pleased with the effort and attitude of our kids and how hungry they are to succeed,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. “I’m disappointed because I feel like we should have been in it in the fourth quarter.
“And for whatever reason — we can go through all of them — we didn’t get there. The next step in this journey is to get there; get in that fourth quarter.”
Ole Miss (3-2, 0-1 SEC) eclipsed the 200-yard mark, which was only the third time Alabama allowed more than 200 yards this season, but could not overcome special teams errors and three interceptions.
“The disappointing thing was that we didn’t do some of the little things to give us a chance later in the game,” Freeze said. “Our special teams were atrocious, and we turned the football over because of us being greedy.”
Back-to-back big hits by sophomore safety Cody Prewitt and redshirt freshman Denzel Nkemdiche on the first drive forced a punt and set the tone on defense, as Ole Miss held Alabama to two 38-yard field goals on its first three drives.
Sparked by a third-down pass interference penalty, Ole Miss drove 75 yards on 13 plays, including a 31-yard connection from sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace to sophomore wide receiver Donte Moncrief, to set up first-and-goal at the Alabama 1-yard line.
Scott and Wallace were stopped for no gain on first and second down before Scott powered his way for the one-yard touchdown to take a 7-6 lead. It was the first time Alabama trailed this season.
On the ensuing kickoff, Jones took a line drive kickoff from freshman Nathan Noble and went untouched 99 yards to give Alabama a 13-7 lead.
“It was a big play in the game,” Freeze said of the touchdown. “It starts with our kick. The kick was bad, and the coverage team can’t get down there.
“Just disappointed. That was a big play there because we had some momentum. Our kids were jacked. They were feeling good. Again, I’m not saying that would have changed the outcome of the game, but certainly probably would have gotten us into halftime a little different.”
Three turnovers later, and Alabama took a 27-7 lead into halftime.
After taking a sack for a five-yard loss to set up a third-and-15 play, Wallace threw the first of his two interceptions, and Alabama took over at the Ole Miss 35.
“They kill you,” Wallace said of turnovers. “They put your defense in a bad spot.”
Ole Miss looked to have held Alabama to its third field-goal attempt, but a review overturned what was ruled a third-down incompletion, and the Crimson Tide extended its lead to 20-7 on a 16-yard pass from junior quarterback AJ McCarron to freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper.
Wallace threw his second interception on the next drive, but junior offensive tackle Pierce Burton forced a fumble on the return, and Scott recovered for Ole Miss. Three plays later, Randall Mackey was intercepted.
“The mistakes really hurt us tonight; we kind of hurt ourselves really,” Mackey said.
Alabama converted four third-down plays on its next drive, including a 12-yard touchdown pass from McCarron to Cooper to make it 27-7.
Coming out of halftime, Ole Miss went three-and-out on its first drive but forced an Alabama three-and-out, and the Rebels took over at their own 30.
Ole Miss converted two third-down plays and two fourth-down plays, and junior running back Randall Mackey capped a 16-play, 70-yard drive when he took a sweep right for a 12-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 27-14.
“When we cut it to two scores, the emotions on our sidelines — you just want it so bad for those kids and those fans, and we couldn’t get off the field on third down to give us another shot at it,” Freeze said.
The defense held Alabama to two fourth-quarter field goals, but the offense did not cross midfield, as Ole Miss outscored Alabama 7-6 in the second half, the first time the Crimson Tide was outscored in the second half since a 28-27 loss to Auburn in 2010.
With the loss, Ole Miss has now lost 15 straight SEC games, dating back to a 42-35 win against Kentucky on Oct. 2, 2010. The Rebels look to shed that albatross as they return home for a two-game stretch against Texas A&M and Auburn.
“Enough has been talked about the past, whatever it was, and it’s time for us to start expecting more,” Freeze said. “In this conference, you can’t feel sorry for yourself; you’ve got to put it behind you and move forward for the next one because we’ve got a very difficult one next week.
“But I think our kids are in a positive frame of mind to know that if we could stop doing some of the things we do to ourselves, we’ll have a chance.”