Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (13) gets around Ole Miss’ defense. When he wasn’t running, he was throwing. Final score: Alabama 62, Ole Miss 7.

OXFORD — The first 11 seconds were glorious. Vaught-Hemingway Stadium was packed. Two-thirds of it seemed painted powder blue. Ole Miss won the toss and elected to receive. After a touchback on the kickoff, tall, lean Jordan Ta’amu – the reason so many Rebel fans were wearing leis – took the game’s first snap, stood behind sturdy protection and let go a beautiful, high spiral.

Ole miss fans had something to cheer for early in the Ole Miss game verses Alabama in Oxford Saturday, September 15 2018.

Tall, muscular D.K. Metcalf, son the great Terrence Metcalf, galloped down the left side of the field, blowing by a Bama defender. And just when you thought Metcalf couldn’t possibly catch up to the football, he shifted to another gear, reached out those long arms and snagged it in stride for a 75-yard touchdown, striding gracefully into the end zone just in front of a full, wildly cheering Ole Miss student section.

It was gorgeous, and then Luke Logan, he of the athletic, multi-generational Hattiesburg Logan clan, split the uprights with the PAT kick.

Ole Miss 7, No. 1 Alabama 0. The score was flashed on TV sets around the country.

Rick Cleveland

Now then, Ole Miss fans, if you wanted to read pleasant things about the Rebel football team, stop here. As one wise guy tweeted later on: “Ole Miss will always have those first 11 seconds.”

Final score: Alabama 62, Ole Miss 7.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban could have named the score at Ole Miss Saturday night. He settled for 62-7.

Know this: It could have been worse. It could have been whatever Nick Saban wanted it to be. He only let starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa play a quarter and a half, and you could make one dynamite highlights film from just that seemingly cameo performance. This sophomore, the one who came off the bench to help the Tide win still another national championship in 2017, is so very special.

He can throw darts over the middle. He can throw long balls every bit as accurately as Ta’amu, his fellow Samoan – and that is saying something. He can throw deep outs, and he can throw on the run. He sees the entire field, makes instant, instinctive decisions. And he can really run the football with speed and with running back-like moves. He might be the nation’s best quarterback. He very well could win the Heisman. He is that gifted, that good.

And then there’s the fact that his back-up is Jalen Hurts, who was a mere 28-2 as a starter before Tagovailoa beat him out for the starting job this season. Has anybody, anywhere, ever had a backup quarterback with those credentials. I think not.

Alabama’s remarkably talented Jerry Jeudy celebrates his second touchdown.

Chances are Bama could win another national title with either as the starter. From my view, however, Tagovailoa really brings more to the table and makes the Tide’s offensive machine considerably more potent than it already was, which was plenty.

Alabama has its usual stable of future NFL running backs – and if you were wondering who is going to be next in the Crimson Tide’s history of ridiculously talented go-to receivers, consider sophomore Jerry Jeudy. In a brief appearance, Jeudy caught three balls and two touchdowns, showing sprinter’s speed and just insanely quick moves. His three catches were for an average of 45 per, and they included a 79-yard touchdown and a 22-yard touchdown. Ole Miss had nobody who could stay with him.

Alabama has now put 51 points on Louisville, 57 on Arkansas State, and of course, the 62 on Ole Miss.

Probably more gratifying for Saban was the way Alabama’s defense handled Ole Miss after that first 11 seconds. Ole Miss has weapons galore on offense. Several of these Rebels are headed for monster pay days in the NFL. Nevertheless, after those first 11 seconds, Alabama’s defense was spot-on. When Bama tackles you, you are ever more tackled.

The often harassed Ta’amu, a really accurate passer normally, exited the game with only seven completions in 23 attempts for 133 yards. Bama intercepted him twice.

So what can we take from all this?

I’ll try:

• Alabama has another national championship-calibre team. To unseat the two-time defending champions, some team is going to have to be really, really special.

• Ole Miss has severe defensive issues that can only be solved with recruiting and coaching.

• And, yes, the Rebels will always have those first 11 seconds.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.