Under the lights of Bryant Denny Stadium in an electric atmosphere Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, No. 2 Alabama was overmatched by the No. 15 Ole Miss Rebels and lost by a score of 43-37.
In a surprising move, sophomore Cooper Bateman was named the starting quarterback ahead of senior Jake Coker when the pregame lineups were announced.
A fumble by ArDarius Stewart on the opening kickoff gave Ole Miss the ball with great field position at Alabama’s 17 yard line. Gary Wunderlich hit a 32-yard field goal after the Rebels stalled on offense to give them a 3-0 lead.
Alabama drove down the field before turning the ball over on downs at the Ole Miss 34 yard line on a pass to Robert Foster just over three minutes into the game. After a quick three-and-out by the Rebels, the two teams traded possessions before Alabama was able to tie the game on an Adam Griffith field goal with 11:52 remaining in the first half.
After an interception by Cooper Bateman on a pass into double coverage with around ten minutes left in the half, Ole Miss took over on the Alabama 26 with 9:56 left in the second quarter. The Rebels ended the drive with a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the one yard line on an outside run by running back Jordan Wilkins to take a 10-3 lead after the extra point.
Alabama then fumbled on yet another kickoff return, this time by way of Kenyan Drake. Ole Miss took over at the Alabama 19 yard line, scoring on a four-yard Chad Kelly touchdown after a three-play drive that included a pass interference call on Minkah Fitzpatrick to put them on top by a score of 17-3.
Jake Coker came in on the next possession for the Crimson Tide and led the team 75 yards in 15 plays for their first touchdown, scoring on a nine yard touchdown pass to Richard Mullaney with just over a minute remaining in the half. This was Mullaney’s first touchdown reception for Alabama.
Alabama went into halftime with over twice as many yards as the Rebels (214 to 95), but paid dearly for three turnovers, all of which came in their own territory. The halftime score was Ole Miss 17, Alabama 10.
Ole Miss scored on a wild 66-yard tipped-ball reception by Quincy Adeboyejo on their first possession of the second half, pushing the lead to 24-10. Alabama got the ball back and went on a 41-yard drive in seven plays before turning the ball over on downs yet again.
The Rebels took advantage of the opportunity, driving 49 yards in nine plays before Gary Wunderlich hit another field goal to put Ole Miss ahead 27-10 with 7:54 remaining in the third quarter.
After a three-and-out by the Crimson Tide on their next possession, the Rebels drove 51 yards in seven plays and added a 45-yard field goal by Wunderlich to widen the gap to 30-10.
Jake Coker scored on a four-yard run to cap off Alabama’s next drive and close the gap to 30-17 with just over a minute and a half left in the third quarter. The Crimson Tide finished off the third quarter with a bang, forcing a three-and-out by the Rebels after sacks by Da’Shawn Hand and Jonathan Allen.
Alabama drove 46 yards in six plays on their next possession and scored on an eight-yard pass from Jake Coker to ArDarius Stewart to cut the lead to six with 12:30 remaining.
The Alabama defense was fooled with just under 12 minutes remaining when what they believed to be a running play by quarterback Chad Kelly turned into a 73-yard pass to Cody Core to extend the Rebels’ lead to 36-24 after a failed two-point conversion.
Jake Coker threw an interception three plays later to give Ole Miss the ball at Alabama’s 31 yard line and they quickly scored on a pass to Laquon Treadwell to pad their lead to 43-24.
Derrick Henry scored on a two-yard run on Alabama’s next possession to cut the lead to 13 with 6:36 left to play. The Crimson Tide special teams subsequently recovered an onside kick and took over at the Ole Miss 30 yard line, scoring again on another pass to Richard Mullaney to pull within six. That was as close as they would get for the rest of the evening, as they squandered opportunities to complete the comeback late in the game.
Alabama finished with 503 total yards, 288 passing and 215 rushing, to go along with those five crucial turnovers. Ole Miss (3-0, 1-0 SEC) tallied 433 total yards, 341 of which came through the air, and no turnovers. Chad Kelly finished with 341 yards on 18 of 33 passing with three touchdowns. His leading receivers were Cody Core (four receptions for 123 yards) and Laquan Treadwell (five receptions for 80 yards), each of whom recorded a touchdown.
ArDarius Steward led the Tide receiving corp with 73 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions. Richard Mullaney scored two touchdowns to go along with seven receptions for 61 yards. Tight end O.J. Howard had 70 yards receiving on four receptions.
Derrick Henry finished with 127 yards on 23 carries for a 5.5-yard average and a touchdown to lead the Alabama rushing game. Jake Coker ran seven times for 58 yards and a touchdown. Kenyan Drake had 11 rushes for a total of 33 yards.
Jake Coker finished with 201 passing yards, completing 21 of 44 attempts with three touchdown passes and two interceptions. Cooper Bateman went 11-of-14 passing for 87 yards and an interception, all in the first half.
Reggie Ragland led the defense with 9 total tackles and an assist on a tackle for loss in addition to a pass breakup.
The Crimson Tide (2-1, 0-1) hosts Louisiana Monroe at 3 p.m. in Bryant Denny Stadium next Saturday.