While the Rebels played toe-to-toe with Alabama yesterday for 59 minutes and 57 seconds, there was…
Bama survives - barely
"It was a hard-fought football game by our team," first-year head coach Ed Orgeron said. "I thought we played well enough to win."
The Rebel defense shined once again this season, this time against the No. 6 Crimson Tide. The Rebels, anchored by Patrick Willis' 15 total tackles, held Alabama to 13 points and 121 yards on the ground.
"We just played our defense," Orgeron said. "I'm really proud of our players and coaches. We were able to stop the run and get good press coverage against their receivers for most of the game. We tried some blitzes throughout the game, some of them worked and some of them didn't. I thought we just came ready to play on defense."
"We have to give them credit," Alabama running back and the SEC's leading rusher Kenneth Darby said. "We expected them to come out hard, but they surprised us by how hard they came out. They did a lot of formations, blitzes, and blitz-switches. We have to give them a lot of credit."
Ole Miss got consistent pressure on Alabama senior quarterback Brodie Croyle, who completed 22 of 37 passes for 234 yards and no touchdowns. The Rebel defense seemed to get to Croyle after the first quarter. After connecting on 9 of his first 11 passes for 110 yards, Croyle completed only 13 of his next 26 attempts over the game's final three frames for 124 yards.
But Croyle carried his team on the game's final drive - oddly enough - on his legs.
With the game knotted at 10-10 and Alabama, in their two-minute drill, facing a third-and-nine at their own 25-yard line, Croyle took the snap, stepped up in the pocket, and sprinted 20 yards up the middle to give Alabama a first down at their own 45. That was the first of three straight third down conversions for the Tide, who before that point were only 4 of 13 on third down conversions. The Tide moved the ball all the way to the Ole Miss 13-yard line, including a draw play up the middle by Darby for 16 yards to set up the Tide's game-winning field goal with three seconds remaining.
"We should have sacked (Croyle) on that last third and ten," Orgeron said. "We needed a big play, and we didn't get it. We were in man coverage, and it was great coverage, but it led (Croyle) up the middle. That's one of the things that happens when you're in a two-man. You've got to get (the quarterback) down."
Ole Miss led nearly the entire first half. The Rebels got on the scoreboard first when Micheal Spurlock completed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Mario Hill on a third and 11 play. The short, three-play drive covered 26 yards and began after Travis Johnson forced a fumble on Tide wide receiver D.J. Hall. Garry Pack recovered the football at the 26, and the Rebel offense did the rest to give Ole Miss an early 6-0 lead. Robert Bass was good on the PAT, and the Rebels led 7-0 with 3 minutes, 47 seconds to go in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Crimson Tide closed the gap to 7-3. After missing earlier on a 38-yard attempt wide to the right, Christensen connected from 43 yards out to cut the lead to four points with 11 minutes, 37 seconds to go before halftime. Alabama took advantage of a Spurlock interception by Ramzee Robinson, who returned the ball all the way to the Rebel 16-yard line. Alabama's offense wasn't able to get anything going, however, and went backwards 11 yards before getting the field goal.
Ole Miss had a couple more scoring opportunities before halftime. Two missed field goals - a 31-yarder by Bass with 2:42 to go before halftime and a blocked 35-yarder by Moseley with 22 seconds - kept the score 7-3 at intermission.
Alabama went up 10-7 early in the third period on a 48-yard rush straight up the middle by Kenneth Darby. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound junior running back outraced everyone to the endzone and gave the Tide their first lead of the day.
Ole Miss fought back and tied the game at 10-10 on a 24-yard field goal by Bass with 11:42 to go in the contest. The Rebels, facing a third and goal at the Alabama two-yard line, were flagged twice for consecutive delay of game penalties, and Ole Miss had to settle for a field goal try on fourth and goal from the Tide's 7-yard line.
That was all the Ole Miss offense could do, as Alabama's highly-acclaimed defense limited the Rebels to five total yards of offense on twelve plays in the fourth quarter.
With the loss, Ole Miss falls to 2-4 (0-3) on the season, despite playing arguably its best game of the season, and will face a Kentucky squad who had last week off. Alabama improves to 6-0 (4-0) and faces Tennessee. Although disappointed with the loss, Orgeron saw improved play on his team that gives him hope for the future.
"We are working and we are practicing on our mental attitudes and our physical well-being," Orgeron said. "Everybody has pulled together, and I can feel this team turning, just like I did in my other program. We feel it turning and we're getting there, we just have to push to get to the next level. There's no such thing in my mind as a moral victory. The team played well enough to win. That's what I came here for - to win. We're right there, we just let (this one) slip away from us.
"We have to figure out why we didn't win and correct it. This is a game we should have found a way to win and we will keep plugging away until we do. Close doesn't mean much to me. Yes there are positives, yes we played hard, but the objective is to win. Anything else is not meeting our objective."
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