If Alabama is to continue a march toward 2015 perfection and a spot in the College Football Playoff, they’ll have to dig themselves out of a hole to do it.
On the strength of three turnovers, Ole Miss stunned the once-raucous Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd in taking a 17-3 lead before a late score by ‘Bama cut that margin to 17-14. And, uncharacteristically, it was mistakes on the part of Nick Saban‘s bunch that has left the Tide with some serious digging to do.
On the game’s opening kickoff, ArDarius Stewart fumbled it over to the Rebels, although the Tide defense did hold them to a field goal and a 3-0 deficit. In the second quarter, the Tide’s offense and special teams, again, brought out the backhoe.
Cooper Bateman, making his first career start, tossed an interception in the middle of the second quarter that appeared to be the result of a miscommunication with his intended target, Stewart. Six plays later, a Jordan Wilkins one-yard touchdown run gave the Rebels a 10-3 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Kenyan Drake handed it right back to the Rebels with another fumble; three plays after that, and not counting a defensive pass interference penalty that put the ball at the UA 4-yard line, quarterback Chad Kelly leaped in (eventually) from four yards out for the 17-3 lead.
Bateman (11-14, 87 yards, one pick) was yanked on the next possession in favor of Jake Coker, who started the first two games of the season. It turned out to be a prescient move as Coker proceeded to march the Tide down the field 75 yards, capping the 16-play drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Richard Mullaney with just over a minute left in the half to slice the lead to seven at 17-10. Coker converted three third downs on that drive, and would seem to be a lock to take back hold of the offensive reins when the third quarter commences.
In one of the more stunning stats of the young season, Ole Miss leads by a touchdown despite totaling just 95 yards of offense. When you score all of your points off opponent turnovers in their own territory, though, that will happen.
Ole Miss, incidentally, will get the ball to start the second half.