OXFORD – My first impulse is to begin this column: The ruling on the field is that No. 1 ranked Alabama defeated Ole Miss 48-43 here today. However, that score is under further review.
The words – “under further review” – are stuck in my head like an earworm.
In a game that lasted four hours, two minutes, without overtime or lightning delays, Alabama prevailed and dropped the short-handed Rebels to 1-2 with Georgia coming to town next Saturday.
The game had almost as many momentum swings as it had replay reviews. Alabama trailed 24-3, then led by 48-30 and then hung on at the end to win on a hot, muggy day that seemed would never end.
“We have coaches getting IV’s, players getting IV’s but the old fellow doesn’t need one. What a great college football game,” Bama coach Nick Saban said afterward.
If it seemed to you that nearly all the replay reviews went against the Rebels, you were not alone.
Hugh Freeze said he had never seen anything like it, but he also added, “I know the guys in Birmingham have a lot more and better views than I have out there. You just hope you get them right.”
The not-so-instant replay Freeze must hate worse is this one: Against then-No. 2 ranked Florida State, Ole Miss led 28-6. And lost. Against No. 1 ranked Bama, Ole Miss led 24-3. And lost.
If games lasted 30 minutes instead of 60 minutes, Ole Miss would be the nation’s No. 1 ranked team.
But the rules require you play 60 minutes, and No. 19 Ole Miss, fairly or not, might drop all the way out of the rankings at 1-2.
“I love the fight and I love the effort,” Freeze said. “We are so short-handed on defense right now … We are playing a lot young kids in a lot of areas.”
That’s true, but one of the youngest kids on the field, Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, was the hero of this game. The 18-year-old freshman, who was playing high school ball in Texas last year, came back from one of the hardest hits of this, or any, season, and lifted the Tide to victory.
With three minutes left in the first half and Bama trailing 17-3, Hurts went back to pass and never saw Ole Miss defensive end Marquis Haynes coming, full speed, from his blind side. Haynes slobber-knocked Hurts, knocking the ball loose, and Rebel John Youngblood picked it up and raced 44 yards for a touchdown. Not only was Bama down 24-3, but Hurts was clearly groggy.
“I can’t hit anybody harder than I hit him,” Haynes would say. “I came on an outside blitz and nobody touched me. I hit him with all I had. Jalen really earned my respect to come back from that and play the way he did.”
Here’s how Hurts played: He ran 18 times for 146 yards. He completed 19 of 31 passes for 158 yards. All that, after nearly being decapitated in his first true road game as a college quarterback.
“He’s a really tough kid, and he can really run it,” Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. “He gives Alabama a weapon they haven’t had and they really used him well. He’s a coach’s son, and you can tell it.”
The Tide also got 144 rushing yards and a touchdown from tailback Damien Harris, who wore No. 34, is built like Walter Payton and Saturday ran with Payton-like toughness.
Bama ran for 334 yards, 218 of that in the second half when the Ole Miss defense was clearly gassed. That’s at least partially because in the first half, even when the Rebels were winning 24-3, they were losing badly in time of possession. The Tide had the ball for nearly 11 of 15 first quarter minutes, nearly 20 of the first half’s 30 minutes.
“No question that was a huge factor,” Freeze said. “We got tired.”
“We were out there too long,” Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack said. “Plus, we’re beat up. You’d like to play more defensive linemen and more linebackers, but…”
But they are running low on both.
“You get worn down and when you get worn down physically, you don’t think as well mentally,” Wommack said. “I don’t like to make excuses. We’ve just got to get some players back and get better.”