Learning from experience; young Rebels will grow from loss to Alabama
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – No team is ever satisfied with a loss, but in the case of the 59-31 defeat Ole Miss suffered at the hands of Alabama Saturday, there are certainly some positives to take back home to Oxford – it was a learning experience for a young team that did not quit.
The Rebels learned they could compete with perennial SEC power Alabama. Ole Miss led the No. 2-ranked Tide 10-7 at the end of the first quarter and seemed to not be intimidated by Nick Saban’s bunch.
Tide QB Tua Tagovailoa hit Devonta Smith with a 74-yard touchdown in the early moments of the game, but Ole Miss came back and played toe-to-toe with the Crimson Tide the rest of the period. But after that initial period, these “Baby Rebels” learned why Bama is Bama.
When Alabama won the national title in 2013 by beating Notre Dame 42-14 in the Orange Bowl, Irish coach Brian Kelly said his team saw first-hand what a championship team looks like.
Ole Miss learned that same lesson Saturday, and make no mistake…, they’ll take it with them and learn from it. The Rebel youngsters —70 of the 120 on the roster are freshmen and sophomores — know what they need to be to win a conference championship before they leave Oxford.
Each position group learned hard lessons at Bryant-Denny Stadium. And one of those lessons learned is how Alabama’s players not only challenge their opponents, but also themselves.
The Bama offensive line challenges each other to keep Tagovailoa’s uniform as clean as possible by not allowing sacks. The Rebels were only able to get to Tagovailoa twice when Benito Jones got to him in the first quarter and again in the fourth.
The Alabama receivers challenge one another to make big plays.
DeVonta Smith caught a SEC record-tying five touchdowns and they were all big plays. The scores came from 74, 25, 23, 33 and 27 yards. In all, Smith tallied a school-record 274 yards, averaging 24.9 yards per catch. As a team Alabama averaged 16.1 yards per catch.
The Alabama front seven challenges itself to establish a new line of scrimmage and get after the quarterback. The Tide recorded one sack and had seven tackles for loss.
The Alabama secondary challenges itself to lock down opposing receivers.
Sophomore Elijah Moore caught three passes for 40 yards. True freshman Jonathan Mingo notched three receptions for 74 yards and 1 TD. No other Rebels caught more than two passes. In all, the Tide broke up four passes.
The Alabama special teams challenges itself to be opportunistic.
Ale Kaho blocked an Ole Miss punt in the third quarter and he recovered it for a Bama touchdown. Although there was a muffed punt, Alabama recorded 129 yards in returns.
By the end of the third quarter, Ole Miss put one lesson answered into practice. In the fourth quarter, the Rebels outscored Bama 14-7.
Ole Miss also outscored Alabama 10-7 in the first quarter.
The Rebels became the only team to score 31 points against Alabama this season. The previous high was 23 by South Carolina.
“I think we have a lot of talent,” Ole Miss freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee said after the game.
“For sure, like I said if we can work on the little things and get really good at the little things then I think we have the potential to be really special.”
Ole Miss QB John Rhys Plumlee
So, while Ole Miss absorbs a tough loss, it also learns what a championship team looks like and more importantly, these young Rebels learned they can compete with one.
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.