Behind quarterback Jalen Hurts and running back Damien Harris, Alabama found its ground game against Ole Miss. Alabama netted 334 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns.
Hurts rushed for 146 yards while averaging 8.1 yards per carry. He broke off a long run of 41 yards. Harris racked up 144 rushing yards and a score. Harris averaged 9 yards per carry with a long run of 67 yards. That’s the good from Alabama’s offense.
The passing game still has a ways to go. It didn’t help that wide receiver ArDarius Stewart left the game early with a knee sprain.
Hurts completed 19-of-31 passes for 158 yards. One play to Calvin Ridley produced 45 of those yards. Ridley led the receivers with 8 catches for 81 yards.
Alabama seems to have figured some things out in the running game. Now it’s on the passing game to take the next step so this offense can become complete.
By Alabama’s standards, that wasn’t the group’s best performance. Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly threw for 421 yards and 3 touchdowns while completing 63 percent of his passes.
Ole Miss had three receivers with 80 or more receiving yards. There were multiple busted coverages in the secondary.
“We didn’t play that bad on defense, but we made mental errors and gave up explosive plays,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
Alabama’s defense gave up busted plays. The good thing for this group is that they were able to produce two touchdowns to balance out some of the scoring Ole Miss was doing.
Alabama’s defense also got off the field on third down. Ole Miss converted just 5 of its 15 third-down attempts.
Alabama’s defense scored a strip-sack fumble return touchdown, and a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The defense was exposed a little, but it helps when they can score points.
Special teams: A
One of the biggest plays of the game for Alabama came on special teams. On the first punt return of his career, Alabama safety found a crease and scored from 85 yards out to spark Alabama’s comeback. Jackson’s score brought the Crimson Tide within one touchdown at 24-17.
“It was a big momentum swing,” Jackson said. “We needed a big play, and I was able to make that. Guys got hype, and we knew we were still in the fight.”
Jackson’s big play was enough to boost the group’s grade despite an 8-yard punt from JK Scott and a missed field goal from kicker Adam Griffith.
Scott landed two of his punts inside the 20-yard line. He continued to help the offense and defense by flipping the field with his leg. Griffith connected on 2-of-3 field goals. His makes were from 32 and 30 yards.
The offensive play calling was questionable at best early on. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin forgot about the running game early. At one point in the first half, Hurts had thrown 20 passes while the running backs had combined for 9 carries. Kiffin eventually figured things out, and began to trust the running game.
Going forward, Alabama needs to lean more on Harris and the running game. Harris has showed he can produce in key moments if the offensive line gives him a little space.
Defensively, Alabama called a good game, but there were some busted assignments that led to big plays. That stuff should get cleaned up this week. Alabama likely won’t face an offensive that is as explosive as Ole Miss or a quarterback as good as Chad Kelly all (regular) season.
Saban summed this one up the best during his postgame news conference.
“Our players competed from the heart to get back in the game in the second quarter,” Saban said. “I’m proud of the way our players kept battling.”
There were some mistakes made, but the team fought back from a 21-point deficit and was able to hang on in a hostile environment. These are the type of wins that show teams they can get through anything if they keep plugging away. A for effort.