The biggest game of the weekend didn't disappoint, with the underdog Ole Miss Rebels staking out a big second half lead before the Alabama Crimson Tide stormed back to come just one score away from sending it to overtime.
Using the Five Factors of winning, let's break this thing down to figure out just how the Rebels were able to get their second win in Tuscaloosa ever. The only plays that don't show up below are Ole Miss's two half-ending kneel downs, and sacks count as pass plays.
This was a major factor in Ole Miss being able to come away with a win.
|Team||Runs 10+||Pct.||Passes 20+||Pct.||Explosive Pct.|
As we'll see in the next section, the Rebels weren't that great on a down-to-down basis. However, they were able to spring some big plays that overcame that deficiency. The suspect passing attack that critics predicted Alabama would have showed up, as long throws were more likely to end in disaster than celebration.
The main measure here is success rate. Watch this short video if you need to brush up on it.
As I just said, Ole Miss wasn't terribly efficient. The Crimson Tide was actually more so on the game.
|Team||Run SR||Pass SR||Overall SR||Red Zone SR|
The Alabama run game was the most efficient aspect of either team's attacks, but Ole Miss getting out to a lead helped keep Bama throwing it more often than running. Sometimes situations dictate a team go for the less effective option, and that happened to Lane Kiffin on Saturday night. For the most part. I'll get to this more in the player section.
|Team||1Q SR||2Q SR||3Q SR||4Q SR|
The teams both got more efficient as the game went along. Hugh Freeze told ESPN's Heather Cox at halftime that Chad Kelly came out too hyped up for the game and would need to settle down. He appeared to do so, and his success rate on pass plays went from 14.3% in the first half to 52.4% in the second.
It's possible that Alabama's improvements came from adjustments, but it's also possible it came from fatigue on the part of Ole Miss's defense. Bama ran 100 plays according to the NCAA play-by-play data (101 according to ESPN's box score, which has a Coker pass attempt that the PBP doesn't; I go by the PBP here). It's hard to deal with the big and fast players that the Tide have over that many reps.
Efficiency by Player
The story of this game is impossible to tell without focusing on the quarterbacks.
|Player||Comp. Pct.||Pass Eff.||Yards/Att||Sacks||Pass SR|
I mentioned Kelly's first/second half splits, but he really didn't seem to settle in all the way until after his improbable tip-drill touchdown to Quincy Adeboyejo. That kind of toss nearly always gets intercepted, and it was absolutely the wrong decision despite the end result. Had it been picked off, Bama would have had the ball in Rebel territory with an excellent chance to tie it up at 17. Instead, Ole Miss and Kelly got a boost along with a 14-point edge.
Kelly's line is a little deceiving because of that pass and his perfect execution of Auburn's POP pass that burned freshman corner Marlon Humphrey and became a 73-yard touchdown. On one of those plays, Kelly handled things poorly and did nearly everything wrong. On the other he did nearly everything right. Call it a wash.
Take out those two big plays, and Kelly's line becomes 51.6%—117.0 PE—6.5 YPA—two sacks—33.3% SR. That's not a good line. It compares unfavorably to Joel Stave's line against the same defense in three measures while doing slightly better in YPA (Stave's was 5.9) and being equal in sacks. Kelly is still a work in progress, but that's not unusual for first-year starters in Week 3.
I still don't understand Alabama's usage of Bateman. Nick Saban said he went with Bateman in order to take advantage of his speed. Despite Ole Miss not respecting Bateman's running ability whatsoever, he didn't even register a single carry.
Coker was actually the one who made some plays with his legs. He also tossed a pair of interceptions and hit Rebels in the hands on a couple more occasions, and there were times where he and the offense were clearly out of sync. He'd stare down the sideline until late in the play clock. At one point, he went to either hand off or do a play fake to one side while Derrick Henry ran to his other. The cameras caught Kiffin looking completely frustrated a few times. Coker hasn't won this job for good for a reason.
Treadwell and Core each had nice games, but no one else was as good. Adeboyejo technically wasn't even targeted twice, as the tip pass touchdown wasn't really intended for him. His other reception was a success, getting six yards on a 2nd-and-1, but luck definitely helped his line.
Mullaney has a great nose for getting first downs—when he's actually able to catch the ball. Of the guys targeted at least five times, only Howard did consistent damage. Ole Miss's pass coverage was great, and it got an assist from the lead forcing Coker to attempt higher risk throws.
It's not surprising that the larger Wilkins had a better day than Walton did against the big Bama front seven. Even so, he was at his best when getting outside. The Rebels got almost nothing up the middle. We'll see how things change against defenses that don't basically have seven NFL rookies in the box, but the Rebel run game is not fixed yet no matter how things looked against UT-Martin and Fresno State.
Coker, of all people, is the guy who is skewing the run efficiency stats a bit. He had several great runs, but they were scrambles on pass plays, not designed runs. Henry was still pretty great against the stout Ole Miss front, while Drake was better than his traditional stats say thanks to situational success. Both backs had good success rates against a fearsome defense, and both put the passing success rates to shame.
This is why it was so critical that the Rebels opened up that big lead. Bama was stuck in a perpetual comeback cycle, unable to lean on the run game. It's possible that the Tide run attack got some help in the second half from Ole Miss's defense looking for the pass, as the first half Alabama run success rate of 36.4% turned into 68.4% in the second. It also, again, could have been Ole Miss wearing down. Maybe a little of both.
Both teams had 14 drives.
|Team||Avg. Starting Position||Plays in Opp. Territory||Pct. Of Total|
|Ole Miss||Own 40||29||46.0%|
Ole Miss's 12-yard advantage on average starting position resulted in a hidden yardage advantage of 168 over the whole game. Generous return men on the Alabama side made a big difference here, of course. The Rebels only had two long, sustained drives on the game: their first field goal drive of the third quarter started at their own 34 and went to the Bama 17, and their second field goal drive in the same started at their own 22 and made it to the Bama 27. Otherwise, their scores came either thanks to starting on the Tide's side of the 50 or getting points on long plays.
Here, a trip inside the 40 either means the team got a 1st-and-10 inside the opponent's 40 or scored from longer than 40 yards out.
|Team||Drives||Trips Inside 40||Points||Red Zone Trips||Points|
Bama blew a couple of chances early, turning it over on downs at the Rebel 35 on its first possession and punting from the Rebel 40 on its second. Ole Miss didn't fail to score on a trip inside the 40 until the end of the game when Jeremy Liggins got stuffed on 4th-and-1 as the Rebels were trying to run out the clock.
Ole Miss won handily here 5-0, and Alabama even turned it over on downs both in the first and third quarters. The Rebels may have been fortunate that Bama muffed the opening kickoff, but the three interceptions weren't luck and neither was a tackler putting a helmet on the ball on the second kickoff return fumble. Bama just didn't take care of the ball well while Ole Miss did.
Alabama has problems. It gave up big plays in all three phases of the game. Neither quarterbacking option looked encouraging. Bateman was mostly fine until his interception, but boy, was that an awful pick. Coker is a senior in a system that isn't new and was having communication and understanding issues. The Tide turned it over a ghastly five times, and it lost a good receiver in Foster during the game.
Alabama still only lost by a score. It needed a fortunate bounce on an onside kick to get that close, but the team's execution in getting the bounce and dealing with it was flawless. Ole Miss couldn't run the ball, Kelly had trouble with the defense on the firm majority of his downs, and the Bama run game is in good shape with Henry. If we didn't have such high standards and expectations for the Tide, the aftermath of this game would feel different. That said, we do have those high standards and expectations for good reasons, them being the excellence of the recent past and the highly rated recruiting classes Saban signs every year.
While Kelly was scuffling in the first half, the teams looked about even to me while watching the tape today. Once Kelly got his act together, the Ole Miss defense began to slip some. If home field advantage is worth the three points that the oddsmaker rule of thumb says, then the Rebels were about ten points better than the Tide on Saturday. That feels close to right.
For so many reasons, this was a huge win for Ole Miss. Winning required overcoming more than just the players wearing crimson on the field. But the Rebels weren't clearly the better team by a huge margin. If these two played ten times, I'd guess Ole Miss wins about six of them. I can imagine some iterations where it's Bama that gets an early lead, at which point the Tide then rides Henry and Drake to victory while not asking Bateman or Coker to have to do much. I can imagine plenty of iterations where the Rebels don't enjoy a +5 turnover margin or incredible luck on a horribly thrown ball.
This game doesn't put Alabama out of the playoff race. It still has plenty of great players and has room to grow. The game does, however, catapult the Rebels into the spotlight for the second straight year. They wilted at the end of last year, though big injury problems helped that process along. How they handle the glare this time will determine how things play out and whether they can get to Atlanta for the first time.