TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama defeated Ole Miss, 59-31, Saturday in Tuscaloosa in what turned out to be a record-setting day for the Tide, but it wasn’t just Nick Saban’s team who put up some eye-popping numbers.
Yes, Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith tied an SEC record with five touchdown catches, which is also an Alabama record. He also tallied a school-record 274 yards receiving.
And, yes, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa broke the UA career record for touchdown responsibility, after throwing six touchdowns, and running in another. The six passing touchdowns and the seven total touchdowns are also Alabama records.
But in his first start, it is definitely worth noting Ole Miss true freshman John Rhys Plumlee became just the second quarterback in history to rush for more than 100 yards on Saban’s Alabama defense.
Think about the noteworthy running QBs Saban has faced in the SEC.
Yet, the only other signal-caller to eclipse the 100-yard mark against the Tide was Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray in December, 2018, when he rushed for 109 — the same number Plumlee notched against Bama Saturday.
The Rebels’ young QB completed the first two touchdown passes to fellow true freshmen Jerrion Ealy and Jonathan Mingo.
“The thing we’ve got to do is build on some of the positives out there, like some of the guys out there competing, some of the young guys making plays,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said after the game.
“We’ve got to build on that, but there are a lot of things we’ve got to get corrected, too. There were some times we got beat in some one-on-ones, but there were some times we were out of position and not doing the things we needed to do. So there’s a lot of getting better that we have to do, but let’s build on the positives to get better.“
Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke
Although Alabama cruised to the win, it was clear early on Ole Miss wasn’t intimidated. In the first quarter, the Rebels looked as if they were going to give second-ranked Alabama all it could handle and then some.
Then came the second quarter.
Ole Miss led 10-7 after the first quarter, but Alabama scored 31 unanswered points and put the game away before halftime.
Tagovailoa connected with Smith for four touchdown passes in the second quarter and added a fifth in the second half.
It didn’t take Alabama long to get on the scoreboard. After receiving the opening kickoff, on their fourth play of the game, Tagovailoa hit Smith on a slant pattern. Smith ran through the grasp of Jalen Julius and raced 74 yards for a touchdown.
Joseph Bulovas made the conversion and Alabama led 7-0 just 1:10 into the game.
Ole Miss had to punt on its first possession—but then a little magic happened.
Mac Brown sent a good punt downfield that Jaylen Waddle bobbled. The ball bounced off the helmet of the Rebs’ Jack Probst and into the hands of freshman A.J. Finley who ran 30 yards for an apparent touchdown. After a video review, it was determined the ball was muffed, not fumbled, so Ole Miss took over possession at the Alabama 30.
Seven plays later Ole Miss got into the end zone when Plumlee sprinted untouched around the left side for a one-yard touchdown.
Luke Logan’s kick tied the game, as the Rebels served notice they weren’t intimidated by the home team.
The Landshark defense forced a punt on the ensuing possession and the Ole Miss offense went back to work. The Rebels mounted a methodical 13-play, 65-yard drive that culminated in a 33-yard Logan field goal to put Ole Miss ahead 10-7.
It was the first time Alabama faced a deficit all season.
The score would hold at the end of the quarter.
Alabama regained the lead about a minute into the second period when Tagivailoa scrambled to his left and rumbled into the end zone. The conversion put the Tide ahead 14-10.
A 36-yard field goal by Bulovas on the next possession added to the lead, 17-10.
Bama extended the lead a drive later when Smith took a short pass from Tagivailoa and turned it into a 25-yard touchdown and a 24-10 lead.
Alabama continued its 24-0 run in the second quarter when Smith caught his third scoring pass – this one from 23 yards – to make the score 31-10.
The Tide closed out the 31-point second quarter when Tagivailoa hit Smith for the fourth time for a touchdown to mercifully end the half with Alabama up 38-10.
Smith had eight catches for 221 yards in the first half.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge coming in (stopping the Alabama receivers), and all you can do is try to mix up your coverage,” Luke said.
“You play off to keep them from running by you, and they break tackles, and they had a long run the first drive of the game. And you press them and they throw it over the top of you. So you’ve just got to continue to keep mixing it up, and try to stay out of one-on-ones as much as possible. But they have one of the best collections of wide receivers I’ve ever played against, so a lot of credit to them for executing. They’ve got a quarterback that’s very accurate, which helps.“
Coach Luke on the Alabama receivers
Yes, Tua and company are pretty good.
Early in the third quarter, Smith caught his fifth touchdown to push the score to 45-10.
For those who thought Ole Miss might roll over at that point….not so fast, my friends. On the ensuing drive, the Rebels drove 75 yards and scored when Plumlee tossed a nine-yard TD pass to Jerrion Ealy to cut the lead to 45-17.
The Alabama special teams got into the action later in the third when Ale Kaho blocked a Brown punt and recovered it in the end zone to give the Tide a 52-17 advantage.
Again, however, Ole Miss did not quit. Early in the fourth, Plumlee hit Jonathan Mingo on a 26-yard scoring strike to close the gap to 52-24.
Tagovailoa threw his sixth touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to Miller Forristall to make the score 59-24.
Rebels’ true freshman quarterback Grant Tisdale saw his first action of the season and closed the scoring by hitting true freshman Jadon Jackson on a 28-scoring pass with five seconds left to provide the 59-31 final score.
The bottom line
So while of course the performance of Tua and Co. was remarkable, a very young Ole Miss team also offered a glimpse of things to come.
Here are a few superlatives from the Red and Blue:
- Ole Miss’ total yards (476) and rushing yards (279) were the most against the Alabama defense this season.
- The Crimson Tide were only allowing 104.8 yards rushing per game, but Ole Miss rushed for 279 yards on 58 carries.
- The 279 rushing yards were the most allowed by an Alabama defense since 2011 (Georgia Southern, 302).
- The 58 rushing attempts by Ole Miss were the most by a Rebel team since rushing 61 times vs. Troy on Nov. 16, 2013.
- Plumlee’s 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was the earliest Alabama has allowed a touchdown all season (4:40) and was just the second first quarter TD allowed by the Crimson Tide.
- The 25 rushing attempts by Plumlee are the most by an Ole Miss quarterback since at least 1997.
- Three different Rebel receivers tallied their first TD receptions: Jerrion Ealy (9 yards), Jadon Jackson (28 yards), Jonathan Mingo (26 yards)
- WR Jonathan Mingo recorded a career and team-high 74 yards receiving on three catches, including a TD.
- WR Elijah Moore hauled in three catches for 40 yards.
- RB Jerrion Ealy finished with 68 yards rushing on a career-high 11 carries.
- RB Snoop Conner tallied a career high in rushing yards (62) and attempts (10).
Of course much credit is given, rightfully so, to Alabama for all the dazzling numbers the Tide posted during the win.
But you can bet Nick Saban will remember Plumlee — only the second quarterback in 12 years to run for 100 yards on his defense.