The Rebels took a 7-6 lead very early in the second quarter, with 13:40 to go before halftime. Then disaster.
Down but in no way out, a 99-yard return for a touchdown by Christion Jones from a Nathan Noble kick put Alabama right back on top. The extra point that went along with it made it 13-7 in favor of the home team. Things were much different the rest of the way.
“It was a big play in the game. Our kick was bad. It was a line drive and our coverage team can’t get down there,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said.
“Just disappointing. That was a big play, because we had some momentum. Our kids were jacked. They were feeling good. I’m not saying it would have changed the outcome of the game. But it would have probably gotten us into halftime a little different.”
Freeze said the coaches have to go back to work to correct those things and give the players a better shot at victory.
“We’ve got to go evaluate all that because our kids deserved a better outcome tonight the way that they played. And that’s my opinion.”
But Freeze, whose team game up no points to Tulane last week and half as many Saturday night as it did against Texas two weeks ago, said he couldn't be more proud of the effort of his team.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the effort from our kids. They laid it on the line against a very talented football team, a very physical football team,” he said.
“We were short-handed at some spots, and I just couldn’t be more pleased with the effort by our young men tonight. They represented Rebel nation and our great university very, very well.”
Freeze, after the 33-14 loss, said his players felt good about themselves, and he was pleased with that.
“They feel good, as well they should,” he said. “They feel a lot better than I do. And they should. They’re pleased with the effort they gave.
“But we’ve got to start expecting more of ourselves,” he continued. “It’s time for us to start expecting more. This conference, you can’t feel sorry for yourself. You’ve got to put it behind you and move forward and get ready for the next one. But I think the kids are in a positive frame of mind.”
Freeze said he hopes that, in turn, means more wins.
“I don’t know if we will win the games or not,” he said. “I don’t. I haven’t promised that in year one. I promised you’re going to get great effort. I know if we play like that and don’t hurt ourselves, we should have some chances late in a game to win it.”
Ole Miss was only down six points after Jones made his 99-yard jaunt to the end zone for a score to shift the momentum back to the Tide.
For the rest of the first half, Ole Miss almost appeared to be in panic mode. Bo Wallace was intercepted on the third play of the subsequent series as he headed toward the sideline still looking for a receiver all the way.
Rather than throwing it away or getting out of bounds or tackled, Wallace threw a pass that was picked off at the Rebel 35-yard line, and the Tide was in business again. And they took advantage of it, with an overturn from the replay officials.
A.J. McCarron connected with Amari Cooper, who crossed the pylon with what was a close call but ruled by the official in the area as out of bounds. But the replay booth saw fit to overturn the on-the-field official, and Alabama was credited with another touchdown on the play.
The PAT made it 20-7, and all of sudden, and only three minutes and 10 seconds after the Rebels had led, the Tide was back up two scores.
Wallace said mistakes like that will cost you a game.
“They kill you,” he said. “They put your defense in a bad spot.”
He admitted the 99-yard kickoff return might have had some effect on them in the minutes from that point on until halftime.
“There was no panic or anything like that,” he said. “I just think it hurt our momentum. Offensively we have to get that back when something happens like that. We’re a young team and we can’t give up big plays. That was definitely a big play that changed the momentum of the game.”
Denzel Nkemdiche, the redshirt freshman outside linebacker, continues to make his presence known in only his fifth game in college. But he said evaluating his own play is more team-oriented than individual performance.
“I wasn’t really paying attention to my stats,” he said. “I was just honestly trying to make the play, hustle to the ball, and get us off the field.”
Nkemdiche had a strong first half, and his name was called often. He had seven tackles, including three of them unassisted, as well as being credited for a sack and a half in the opening half. He said the defense came out strong early.
“When you play a team like this, it’s what you have to do,” he said. “You have to hit them in the mouth and show them you came to play and they’re not fixing to walk over you.”
Nkemdiche finished the game with 11 tackles, including five solos and three tackles for loss.
“This definitely gives us belief, and we really needed that. We wish we would have come out with a win, but we know we can compete at this level.”
Cody Prewitt was another Rebel who came up big to give the Rebels a shot.
Time after time, like Nkemdiche, Prewitt’s name was a regular from the public address announcer’s mic.
“I want to be a leader and I try to do that when we get on the field,” said Prewitt, the leading tackler on the team in this game. “We’re still getting better. We’re not the best we’re capable of now.”
Prewitt had a big first half with nine tackles, four of them of the unassisted variety, and also a contribution on a tackle for loss. For the game, he ended with 13 tackles, six solos.
“There’s a lot of confidence coming from this game. Playing Bama, that’s the best of the best,” he said. “We gave them a dogfight to the end.”
Prewitt said tomorrow is another day, and Texas A&M is their focus.
“We’ll get in the film room and correct the mistakes. Alabama’s in the past, and we’re looking forward,” he said.
Ole Miss used three players at quarterback in the game. Wallace started, but also making appearances were Randall Mackey and Barry Brunetti.
Wallace had two interceptions, and Mackey had one. All three were in the second quarter.
Freeze expounded on the greedy comment he made at halftime as far as what the Rebels were trying to do and how to fix it.
“Two of the picks we had the flat wide open,” he said. “They carried both verticals, and the guy sitting in the flat. I’ve got to coach them better. I’ve got to coach them better to keep them on schedule and not get greedy.”
Wallace had been dealing with a hurt shoulder since suffering the injury against Tulane last weekend. He said it’s OK now.
“It’s good,” he simply said postgame.
Mackey said they have to correct the miscues.
“The mistakes really hurt us tonight,” he said. “We hurt ourselves, really. We said it all week long we wanted to come out and hit them in the mouth and fight with them until the end. That’s what we did.”
Freeze said they wanted to get all three in the game at the position for a variety of reasons.
“It depends on the game plan,” he said. “We wanted to get into that Mackey stuff a little earlier. We thought we had some good stuff, and there at the end we did pop a good run with it. With Bo’s shoulder we wanted to be careful not to do certain things with him, and try to get him totally healthy. That was the reason behind all of them. Barry threw some nice balls there at the end.”
Defense Steps Up:
In the first quarter and throughout the second half, the Ole Miss defense had a terrific showing. The second quarter, due to the 99-yard kickoff return and three interceptions that had them on the field a whole bunch, was a different story.
But for the game, the defenders made quite the improvement over the last powerful offense they faced, and that was giving up 66 points to Texas two weeks ago.
“It was a lot better tonight,” Freeze said of his defense’s tackling. “Our concentration was better, our eyes were a lot better, our fits were a lot better, our plan was better. Our defensive staff did a great job other than third down. They’ll be the first to tell you that.”
“We’ve got to make some improvements on third down,” said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack.“I think we’ve gotten better in the last two weeks and we’ve got to continue to get better.”
Ole Miss allowed Alabama 305 yards of total offense, which included 125 yards rushing. The Crimson Tide was 11 of 18 on third down conversions.