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After his defense was outplayed, outcoached and outsmarted more completely and more soundly than it ever has been before, all Nick Saban — who had sported a new, gray baseball cap earlier in the day — could do was tip it to his foil, protege and opponent on Saturday night in Oxford, Mississippi.

His Crimson Tide defeated Lane Kiffin’s Ole Rebels 63-48 on Saturday, but if either team left Vaught-Hemingway Stadium feeling like winners, it wasn’t Alabama.

Kiffin’s offense attacked early, often and in all the right places, accumulating the most points a team has ever scored on Saban’s Crimson Tide and the most yards (647) allowed in the history of the Alabama program.

“They had a really good plan,” Saban said. “We played man-to-man, we get picked. We played zone, we couldn’t get them covered. We didn’t stop the run very well. They ran the ball in some unusual circumstances. … We didn’t do anything well.”

Ole Miss’ offensive onslaught was so thorough and so well-suited to beat Alabama’s defensive play calls that Saban mentioned, albeit briefly and offhandedly, the possibility that the Rebels knew their defensive signals.

Linebacker Dylan Moses, who calls the defense and is responsible for communicating changes to his teammates, was more direct.

“I definitely think so,” he said emphatically. “[Kiffin] had an answer for everything.”

Beginning halfway through the second quarter, the next 10 possessions by both teams, excluding the end of the first half, ended in touchdowns. 

That ended with 7 minutes left in the game when, with Alabama leading 49-42, the Ole Miss center scuttled a snap along the ground and quarterback Matt Corral had to fall on it. The Rebels kicked a field goal, and Alabama scored on the next drive to open up an 11-point cushion.

But until that point, Kiffin had Alabama defenders grasping at air, chasing ball carriers from behind, scrambling to stay in position and frustratedly wondering what went wrong. 

It began from the second play of the game, when Corral hit tight end Kenny Yeboah for a 52-yard gain after a play-action fake and a missed tackle. Two plays later, Moses bumped Yeboah on his way to tackle Corral, who appeared to be running toward the end zone, but Corral stopped and lofted up a jump pass to the 6-foot-4 Yeboah.

Perhaps Yeboah’s more impactful play, though — the one that really showed Alabama it was in for a 12-round fight — was an intermediate pass over the middle that turned into a 68-yard score. Alabama had just taken its first lead of the game on a 33-yard run by senior running back Najee Harris, and all seemed to be well.

It was only beginning.

A second-and-22 on the next Ole Miss drive turned into a 27-yard gain. Corral ran for 15 yards on third-and-5,. Running back Snoop Conner gained 14 on third-and-8. Corral threw to running back Jerrion Ealy for 15 yards on third-and-13. On another second-and-22, receiver Elijah Moore caught a 16-yard pass and Ealy converted the ensuing third-and-6 with a 15-yard run.

Ole Miss, which entered the game ranked third in third-down conversion percentage, extended drives at will.

“When you’re playing against these teams that go fast, when you get a chance to get off the field, you’ve got to get off the field,” Saban said. “And we didn’t do that.”

Giving up big plays to running backs and tight ends wasn’t new; that issue briefly surfaced in the season opener against Missouri and came up a few more times against Texas A&M last week. The struggles to defend the run, though, had yet to show up.

Ole Miss took a 21-14 lead its last lead of the game — in the second quarter on a 10-play drive that featured 10 runs, zero passes, and two of Alabama’s backup outside linebackers while the starters took a breather from the up-tempo offense.

On the ninth play of that drive, as yet another Ole Miss runner got to the outside and rounded the corner for a 26-yard gain on fourth-and-1, linebacker Christian Harris, knowing he couldn’t keep up, put his arms in the air and slowed to a jog.

It was that kind of night.

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