The outcome was to be expected, but watching it come to fruition was just as tedious as it was predictable. A struggling Ole Miss defense gave up 516 yards of offense — 418 coming in the first half — to Alabama in a 62-7 loss on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
It was a brief night for Crimson Tide starter Tua Tagovailoa, but a productive one. Tagovailoa was 11-for-15 191 yards and two touchdowns. He played less than two quarters. Backup quarterback Jalen Hurts also tossed a pair of touchdowns in the first half. The Crimson Tide went up 28-7 in the first quarter and never looked back as they put up 49 points in the opening half, tying an SEC record for the most points scored in one half in a conference game.
The gap in talent was glaring.
“They came in and did a tremendous job executing,” defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said. “We have to do a much better job executing. When you make a mistake early, they will certainly capitalize on it.”
Ole Miss led 7-0 after scoring on the first play of the game, but Alabama marched 75 yards down the field in less than a minute to tie it and it was all downhill from there. The Rebel defense forced an early turnover when Jalen Julius popped the football loose and C.J. Moore fell on it on Alabama’s second drive of the game, but the offense sputtered and was unable to take advantage of starting a drive at the Crimson Tide 48 yard line.
“We had some chances early and just couldn’t capitalize on them,” Luke said. “It is certainly disappointing.”
Ole Miss has given up 1631 yards of offense through three games this season. There is certainly an argument to be made that it is largely on the shoulder of former head coach Hugh Freeze and the bare cupboard he left on the defensive side of the football in terms of talent. That was on display tonight watching the Crimson Tide matriculate up-and-down the field at will. But it is more than than just a talent problem. That was evident last week when Southern Illinois put up 629 yards of offense and 41 points. It’s a schematic issue as well. The unit looks lost more times than not. Linebackers and safeties are out of place. Receivers and backs are left unaccounted for a lot.
Three different Alabama running backs scored touchdowns in the opening half. Two of them went in untouched including Damien Harris going 43 yards without grazing a defender. When opposing players get in space against this defense, there’s usually an abundance of it.
“It is very frustrating,” McGriff said. “It is a lot about us as a defense. We have to get back to work and not let this beat us twice. I see us improving in aligning and assignment, now we just have to go out and execute. You see improvement, it is just not coming fast enough.”
Alabama is the best team in college football. Tagovailoa gives the Crimson Tide offense a dynamic, dual-threat weapon at quarterback that hasn’t yet been seen in the Nick Saban era. Saban usually relies on a risk-averse quarterback that manages the game and leans on a strong ground game. Tagovailoa can take the top off of a defense and makes them more explosive. Alabama will score a lot of points against a lot of defenses in this league, it just likely won’t look as easy as it did tonight against a reeling Ole Miss defense.
“When you play a team like Alabama, you cannot make any mistakes or have any miscues because they will capitalize on it,” McGriff said. “We have to get up tomorrow and look at the issues and go back to work.”
There doesn’t appear to be a quick fix. More talent isn’t showing up in the locker room this season. It could be a long year for a struggling defense if things do not change quickly. It’s just hard to point to where that change will come from. Tonight proved the high-powered Ole Miss offense can be neutralized. If the defense does not improve, it is going to be difficult for the Rebels to win games against good teams.
“We have to keep getting some of these young guys growing up,” Luke said. “We came into this game with a mindset of trying to be aggressive and get after them, but they made plays when we did blitz.”