OXFORD, Miss. – Top-ranked Alabama needed all 60 minutes to escape Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with a win over Ole Miss Saturday.
The Crimson Tide got 146 rushing yards from quarterback Jalen Hurts, a punt return touchdown and 2 defensive touchdowns in the victory.
Here’s what you need to know.
The biggest development from Alabama’s offensive game plan was the use of Hurts as a runner.
Hurts rushed for nearly 150 yards with a mixture of calls. Alabama ran Hurts in the read-option, on quarterback powers up the middle and around the end.
Hurts consistently found running lanes in the Ole Miss defense. He broke off a long run of 41 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per carry.
When Alabama’s offense was struggling, the Crimson Tide’s defense and special teams added points. Alabama got a touchdown on a punt return from safety Eddie Jackson. The Crimson Tide also got two defensive touchdowns. On the first defensive score, lineman Da’Ron Payne scooped up the ball after Ryan Anderson knocked it loose from Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly. Payne ran and dove into the end zone for the 6-yard score.
In the fourth quarter, Kelly threw an interception to lineman Jonathan Allen, who slowly but steadily returned the gift 75 yards for the touchdown.
Injuries of note
Alabama lost three key players in the win as linebacker Reuben Foster, wide receiver ArDarius Stewart and defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick all left the game.
Foster was dealing with cramps. He left the game, returned for a play but had to be taken off the field again. He was eventually carted to the locker room.
Stewart left early in the first half. He returned to the sideline in his jersey and sweat pants.
Fitzpatrick took a knee to the back of the head. He did not return.
Ole Miss’ offense struck first. Ole Miss running back Akeem Judd burst through the line for a 23-yard touchdown to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead. The play was set up by a 35-yard gain from Kelly to tight end Evan Engram on third-and-8.
On Alabama’s ensuing drive, the Crimson Tide pushed the ball down the field and wound up inside the 25. But Hurts overthrew tight end Hale Hentges, who was wide open in the back of the end zone.
Alabama settled for a 32-yard field goal from Adam Griffith to make it 7-3 with 5:54 left in the first quarter.
Ole Miss’ Gary Wunderlich added a 23-yard field goal to give the Rebels a 10-3 lead midway through the second quarter.
Late in the second quarter, Kelly found Engram for the 63-yard score. Kelly hit a wide-open Engram in stride for the easy touchdown to give the Rebels a 17-3 lead with 4:40 left before halftime.
On Alabama’s ensuing drive, Hurts took a big shot from his blindside and fumbled. Ole Miss recovered and ran it in for a touchdown to put the Rebels up 24-3.
Alabama’s offense responded immediately. Hurts found Ridley for a 22-yard completion. Hurts ran for a 22-yard gain. Ridley capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run to make it 24-10.
After a strong stand from Alabama’s defense, Ole Miss was set to give the ball back to Alabama’s offense. But the ball never get to Hurts as safety Eddie Jackson took over.
Eddie Jackson looked natural as hell returning that punt though.
— Marq Burnett (@Marq_Burnett) September 17, 2016
Jackson took his first punt back 85 yards for the score to cut the deficit to 24-17. Jackson was asked this week if he had lobbied to return punts. He’s great at returning interceptions for touchdowns, so it seemed like a natural fit. Guessing the coaches got the memo.
— Athlon Sports (@AthlonSports) September 17, 2016
Halftime: Ole Miss 24, Alabama 17
Alabama gets the ball to start the second half
— Marq Burnett (@Marq_Burnett) September 17, 2016
Alabama’s offense spurted to start the second half, but the Crimson Tide’s defense picked up the slack. As Kelly dropped back, Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson came around the edge, hit Kelly and knocked the ball loose. Alabama defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne scooped the football and dove in for the score to tie the game at 24.
After another strong stand from the defense, Alabama’s Adam Griffith connected on a 30-yard field goal to put Alabama up 27-24. It marked the first time Alabama led Ole Miss since the fourth quarter of the 2014 contest.
Kelly and Ole Miss’ offense pushed the ball down the field with a long drive. The Rebels appeared to have a touchdown after a Kelly fumble was recovered in the end zone by Ole Miss. But the play was overturned and the Rebels settled for a field goal to tie it at 27 with 1:47 left in the third.
Alabama’s offense finally found its running game late in the third. Sophomore Damien Harris broke off a 67-yard run up the middle, but was tackled at the 1-yard line. Running back Bo Scarbrough finished the drive with a 1-yard score to make it 34-27.
Ole Miss settled for a field goal on its drive that carried into the fourth quarter to make it 34-30 with 13:17 left.
Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin put the ball in Hurts’ hands and allowed him to run a mix of read option and quarterback powers. Hurts led the Tide to the 1-yard line, and the drive was capped by a 1-yard score from Damien Harris to make it 41-30 with 7:33 left.
On Ole Miss’ ensuing drive, Kelly threw the ball right to Allen, who ran it back 75 yards for the score to seemingly put the game out of reach at 48-30.
Just when the game looked over, Kelly threw a late touchdown to make it 48-37. Ole Miss then recovered the onside kick, which led to another touchdown from Kelly to cut it to 48-43 with 2:51 left after the failed two-point try.