OXFORD, Miss. – It lasted all of one play, at least on Ole Miss’ end.
The Rebels hoped to get No. 1-ranked Alabama into a shootout, the only hope for a team scoring more than 60 points per game through its first two outings against a Crimson Tide team that had been nearly unstoppable. The Rebels didn’t have a reliable defense, but was armed with a play-making quarterback and an impressive corps of receivers.
If Alabama had a weakness, it was a young secondary. The defensive backfield starters, who replaced a group that now mostly occupies spots on NFL rosters, was in the crossfire.
So Ole Miss went for it from the first snap. Jordan Ta’amu faked a handoff up the middle and heaved a pass to D.K. Metcalf, who beat Saivion Smith in single coverage for a 75-yard touchdown.
“We were in bump-and-run (coverage) and the guy got beat,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
Alabama got beat on that play. But that was it. Ta’amu passed for 58 yards the rest of the way. He completed 6 of 21 attempts, threw two interceptions and was sacked four times.
UA changed up its personnel after the first play. Freshman Patrick Surtain II entered at cornerback, mostly on Metcalf, who managed just one more reception the rest of the way.
“We changed the corners around and put a bigger guy on him,” Saban said. “Patrick did a good job against him and we put Trevon (Diggs) on him and he did a good job.
“We didn’t give up any more big plays after that.”
Ole Miss, averaging better than 400 passing yards per game, never threatened, nor found any sustained success.
Alabama’s defense put its own mark on the scoreboard with a little over five minutes left in the third quarter when Xavier McKinney intercepted a pass and returned it 30 yards for a score. The pick-six got back the points given away on the first-play score.
Alabama also forced a fumble for another turnover to go along with an interception by Deionte Thompson.
The key to it all was staying composed after that quick-strike score from the Rebels on the first play.
“Just keep playing,” McKinney said. “Don’t get too low, don’t get too high and play the next play. That’s how we handle ourselves as DBs, just play the next play. We keep moving forward. We don’t let one play define us.
“We were confident in our game and the way we play. They were great receivers, they ran good routes and got open, they were physical, but I feel like we prepared well.”
Ole Miss rushed for 115 yards on 37 carries, averaging 3.1 yards per play on the ground.
Quinnen Williams made six tackles to lead Alabama. Christian Miller had five tackles including 2.5 sacks. Mack Wilson and Thompson had four stops each.