CECIL HURT: Offense saved Alabama vs. Ole Miss, but might not in the future

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

OXFORD, Miss. — Alabama couldn’t be be stopped on Saturday night, which was the only thing that saved its season. The points were enough to win a 63-48 shoutout against Ole Miss, but it’s the 48 that will linger.

The Crimson Tide defense buckled and broke all night long. If a defense could have its roof ripped off, trees down all over its yard, severe water damage and a million adjusters in its fan base ready to declare the property totaled, bulldoze it and start from scratch, this was the what it would look like.

One of the two anticipated storms never made much of an impression on Saturday night. Hurricane Delta caused a few showers in the Oxford area Saturday afternoon, but not a drop during the game. Even the wind was no more than moderate.

10/10/20 MFB Alabama vs Ole Miss
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (10)
Alabama offensive lineman Emil Ekiyor Jr. (55)
Photo by Kent Gidley

Hurricane Lane, on the other hand, blew in with a vengeance. That was in the forecast, too, at least on the opening drive where Kiffin’s script was letter-perfect, allowing the Rebels to score against a bumfuzzled Crimson Tide defense in 54 seconds.

Alabama answered easily enough, also as expected, and the two teams then self-destructed their own ensuing drive, Ole Miss with a center snap over Matt Corral’s head that resulted in a 15-yard loss and Alabama answering with its own error, Najee Harris losing a fumble as the Crimson Tide was at the Rebel 1-yard line and seemed certain to take the lead.

The defense never seemed to get its sea legs, though. You could pick your example, whether it was Jerrion Early picking up most of a third-and-27 on a draw. Or you could opt for the Ole Miss 75-yard touchdown drive, all on the ground, later in the second quarter. Again, Alabama had enough firepower to answer but it felt like being trapped in a debate with both sides yelling at one another, as if that could ever happen.

The third quarter was more of the same. Alabama’s offensive arsenal was too much for Ole Miss, but at the same time Kiffin was calling plays like he was a Central Park chess-master fleecing the tourist rubes. Appearing as the rubes ... well, fill in the names yourself.

By the time Ole Miss tied the game at 42, narrowly avoiding the 1-yard line fumble that had stopped Alabama, two things were happening. First was the awareness that the entire game had been in overtime mode, except playing out over the full 100 yards of the field. The second was a scramble to put the defensive performance in historical perspective. Clemson had 44 in 2018’s title game and LSU had 45 in Tuscaloosa in 2019, but those were national championship-caliber teams. Auburn also had 45, but some came  in weird ways.

This was Ole Miss, a team that didn’t qualify for a bowl game last year.

Credit is due to the Alabama offense. It rolled up more than 700 yards and probably could have had 1,000 if the defense had been making stops and increasing the number of possessions. Najee Harris rushed for approximately one-third of the distance back to Tuscaloosa,

The SEC is different than it ever had been. But you still can’t survive on having the most offense every week. Not in weeks like the one ahead.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt

Fans sit amongst cutouts before Ole Miss vs. Alabama at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. on Saturday, October 10, 2020. (©Bruce Newman)