Lane Kiffin gambled but Alabama football rambled past Ole Miss | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

Daddy Nick Saban probably doesn’t like giving out spankings to his former assistant coaches any more than any other stern-but-caring father. But after the petulant kid keeps writing bad words on the wall and then tries to burn down the house after being told to erase them, you’re pretty much left with no other options but a smack on the butt.

This one in the form of an Alabama football 42-21 win over Ole Miss on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. 

Lane Kiffin, the coach at Ole Miss, clearly had no intention of going gently into Saturday's night, attempting all but the most outrageous fourth downs. At times, the Rebels ran plays so experimental that they wouldn’t have made the playlist on a Radiohead album. No one questions the boldness. You might even expect it.

But Kiffin coached as if his weeks-long media campaign to convince everyone that Alabama had all of the best players in America (other than the ones at Georgia) convinced himself most of all. There is an argument that the only hope Ole Miss had was to be aggressive, to throw caution to the wind and hope the frontal assault would work.

Oct 2, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA;  Ole Miss defensive lineman Quentin Bivens (94) stops Ole Miss running back Henry Parrish, Jr., at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

So why not try it?

That’s a two-part argument, though. As a philosophy, it’s not unsound. If we are talking about the entire game, about the Ole Miss attitude going into it, that’s fine. But there are moments when decisions have to be made that aren’t absolutely all-or-nothing. Even the examples that people cite of bold, daring teams that managed to use their aggression to pull stunning upsets of the Crimson Tide – Texas A&M with Johnny Manziel, the Hugh Freeze Ole Miss teams that posted two wins, a couple of Gus Malzahn’s Auburn teams – involved picking their spots out and not letting the game get out of hand so quickly.

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Thus, those teams didn’t (a) force their own teams to be one-dimensional because they had to make up lost ground and lost time, or (b) turn amazing plays, when they did come, into something more than one-night ESPN highlights. Say what you will about the Kick Six, or Manziel’s magical juggling act of a bad snap, or the desperation Chad Kelly touchdown the last time Ole Miss won. Those plays are remembered today not just because they were great or lucky (depending on your fan loyalty): They are history, not highlights, because the games were still close enough to make those plays matter. 

Oct 2, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA;  Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr. (4) lunges forward for extra yards at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama defeated Ole Miss 42-21. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

Also, Alabama inflicted plenty of damage on itself in those “archetype” games. That didn’t happen Saturday: penalties were limited, the lone turnover came after the game was decided and the pounding and grinding was effective for the 35 minutes that mattered. Those late Ole Miss scores give Saban something to gripe about but were immaterial from the win/loss perspective. One final point: Florida gave Alabama a thorough scare in September with antics at a minimum. 

With that said, one can question Kiffin’s choices but he still doesn’t deserve some of the criticism he is likely to get from sources like Michael Wilbon and beyond. He gambled his stake and lost, but that happens. He didn’t also lose the car, the mortgage and the last of the milking goats. He shouldn’t be evicted from Oxford. The Rebels, perhaps a little bit overrated after torching three lesser defenses, have seven SEC games left. They might still need some Kiffin confidence and some good luck.

Alabama moves forward with confidence in ample supply and luck not needed as long as there is efficiency. 

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