No. 2 Alabama topped Ole Miss 63-48 in a Saturday night shootout in Oxford, Mississippi. It was the first matchup between legendary Alabama coach Nick Saban and his former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who was hired to lead Ole Miss in December 2019.
Najee Harris had a 16-yard touchdown run with 7:01 to play in the fourth quarter and the Alabama defense -- which was exposed all night -- got a much-needed stop to force an Ole Miss field goal on the ensuing drive to give the Crimson Tide some breathing room. Wide receiver DeVonta Smith scored on a jet sweep from 14 yards out with 3:16 to play to seal things up for the Tide.
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones completed 28-of-32 passes for 417 yards to lead the Crimson Tide, while Harris showed off his Heisman Trophy mettle with 206 yards and five touchdowns -- including a 39-yarder with 1:09 to play to ice the game away.
Alabama's defense, however, got torched by Kiffin and Co. The Rebels racked up 647 yards, converted 9-of-17 third downs and went 4-of-4 on fourth downs in a game that looked more like basketball on grass. It isn't just a one-time occurrence as Alabama has given up at least 42 points three times in the last eight games. Prior to that, it had allowed at least 42 points three times in the last 65 games. It was the most points by an unranked team vs. Alabama in the AP Top 25 era (since 1936). It also tied for the most points Alabama has allowed under Saban.
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It's important to give credit where credit is due. Snoop Connor had a career high 128 yards and two touchdowns, and Jerrion Ealy added 120 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Matt Corral, who won an offseason battle with John Rhys Plumlee, had 365 yards and two touchdowns in what served as a coming out party for the California native.
The 1,370 combined yards is the most in a single game in SEC history.
Let's break down the top takeaways from a wild one in Oxford:
Najee Harris is a monster
The senior passed up on the NFL Draft to come back to Tuscaloosa to try to win another national title. He's running like it.
It isn't just the stats. Sure, they are insane. But he showed off everything in his arsenal on Saturday -- balance, vision, explosiveness, heart and power. Simply put, he is Alabama this year. When the Tide needed to make a play, they turned to No. 22 in the crimson and white.
If defenses start to key on Harris, all Jones will do is light up a secondary. You can't slow down Jones and his talented group of wide receivers without opening up the box. That's Harris' time to shine.
The only way that Alabama can be beat this year is when a hot play-caller like Kiffin masterfully uses his pieces like a world champion chess player. And it almost happened on Saturday.
So is Mac Jones
Remember when the Alabama quarterback was only a game manager and in danger of losing his job to true freshman stud Bryce Young? That seems like it was ages ago.
Jones has plenty of weapons, but he has consistently put the ball right where his receivers can haul it in all season. DeVonta Smith and John Metchie III were his two favorite targets against the Rebels, especially after Jaylen Waddle limped off the field in the second quarter.
Yes, it was against Ole Miss. And yes, the Rebels aren't too interested in defense. But after having to replace Tua Tagovailoa, it's clear that the Tide haven't missed a beat.
Kiffin is back with authority
Let's be real about what happened on Saturday night: Kiffin coached circles around Saban. The pupil had his teacher on the ropes from the moment the Rebels received the opening kickoff and never looked back. Well, until a bad snap ended an Ole Miss drive inside the 25-yard line and forced a field goal -- which was a killer in this shootout.
Let's spin it forward. Kiffin is dangerous. Very dangerous.
Ealy, Connor, Corral and wide receiver Elijah Moore are all young stars who he inherited from the Matt Luke regime. Imagine what's coming.
Kiffin's coaching prowess has come into question (unnecessarily) over the last decade. Recruiting hasn't. The high school talent in the state of Mississippi has improved, his program is suddenly attractive again and Kiffin built his reputation on the recruiting trail.
Ole Miss is back … and it isn't going anywhere.
Alabama's defense is a massive problem
It's one thing to get worked by an Ole Miss offense that not only has one of the best offensive coaches in the country at the helm, but also has playmakers all over the field. It's another thing to get worked by Ole Miss after giving up 5.15 yards per play in the first two games of the season against Missouri and Texas A&M, respectively.
Opposing offensive coordinators will notice the one thing that plagued the Crimson Tide on Saturday, and the one thing that has been a problem throughout Saban's career -- tempo is a problem. The Rebels consistently hurried to the line of scrimmage, especially inside the red zone, to force matchup problems against a Tide defense that struggled to simply line up.
This isn't something that can be fixed overnight. Sure, Saban and defensive coordinator Pete Golding could tell his defense to line up in a base defense anytime an offense pushes tempo. Will it matter, though? If a good play-caller has multiple weapons -- especially in the backfield -- the Tide showed that it can't handle the pace and misdirection.
'Just enough' defense wins championships
The best defenses in the country are going to have days like Alabama had on Saturday night. OK, maybe not exactly like Alabama, but there will be off nights.
Alabama had a really off night against Ole Miss, but it still forced a two-yard loss by Connor and then Ole Miss fumbled a hastily executed snap with 6:55 to play to settle for a field goal. That was it. That qualified as "just enough" defense.
Of course, that definition is going to change on a week-by-week basis based on a wide variety of factors. The best teams -- championship-caliber teams -- adapt. Alabama did that against Ole Miss.