Ole Miss Football: Winners and Losers from the Loss to No. 1 Alabama
No. 1 Alabama overpowered a determined Ole Miss team 33-14 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the first home SEC game for Alabama and the first SEC game for Ole Miss in the 2012 season.
Much of the game went according to plan for Alabama, as Ole Miss gave up some big plays and some costly turnovers, but there will be a lot of work for the Tide this week as an unproductive second half will no doubt draw the ire of Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Regardless of the score, we saw an Ole Miss defense make a huge improvement from Week 3 and their embarrassing loss to Texas (giving up 66 points and over 600 yards of total offense) to holding Alabama to their lowest yardage and point totals of the season (305 and 33 respectively).
While there are a lot of positives to take away from playing Alabama with great effort, there is still some ground to cover for an Ole Miss team still trying to climb out of the hole the 2011 season dug for this program. Let’s look at some winners and losers in this matchup with the Crimson Tide.
Denzel Nkemdiche—LB—Ole Miss
In order for Ole Miss’ defense to start to make some serious improvements, leaders will have to emerge, and everyone will have to contribute. Ole Miss lacks depth, size and experience. What can’t be measured is effort, and Denzel Nkemdiche showed Saturday night what is possible when extreme effort is given.
Even against Alabama, it’s possible to have success when you play within your scheme, play under control and show relentless effort. Finishing with 11 tackles, two for loss, and one sack, Nkemdiche was seemingly in on every play and showing us the older brother of Robert Nkemdiche is worthy of some hype of his own.
Denzel was not the only player to step their game up on defense, as safety Cody Prewitt and cornerback Charles Sawyer were among several that showed they are ready to start winning some games in the SEC.
Bo Wallace—QB—Ole Miss
Quarterbacks get the praise when a team does well and have to expect the criticism when they make mistakes. The truth is, Wallace made some great calls and managed the team very well, considering a shoulder bruise that limited his ability to throw down the field and the fact that he is playing against the best defense in America.
Similar to the Texas game, Wallace is sensitive to a strong pass rush; he tends to press and try too hard when throwing the ball away when checking down to an underneath route would be more beneficial for the team.
Against a weaker defense, Wallace is a gun-slinging rock star. Against Alabama, he looks average, but Alabama will do that to a lot of quarterbacks this year.
Jeff Scott—RB—Ole Miss
Another undersized player that played over his expected ability was speed back Jeff Scott who only finished with 49 yards but more importantly scored the first touchdown which effectively broke a mental and physical barrier for Ole Miss that fans hope will last the rest of the season.
Scott was running mostly into the teeth of the Alabama defense and got some room between the tackles, which speaks well for Ole Miss’ run blockers.
Ole Miss Special Teams
Good teams are excellent in all phases of the game. While the Rebels are making huge strides on defense and the offense is a complete 180 from last year, the special teams effectively beat Ole Miss on this night.
Jim Broadway, a senior transfer punter, got off to a bad start and gave Alabama short distances to cover. The real dagger in the heart was after wrestling the lead away from Bama for the first time in about 10 games, the Ole Miss kick return coverage team gives up a 99-yard TD to Christian Jones.
Any momentum the Rebels were able to garner on defense or offense seemed to be immediately erased by Ole Miss’ own special team players.
Freshman Amari Cooper had a breakout game, catching eight passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Alabama was forced to rely a little more on the passing game as Ole Miss slowed Bama’s rushing attack, and there were questions if Alabama could win a game by passing the ball.
As consistent as A.J. McCarron has been to this point, a deep-threat receiver had not emerged until Saturday night with Cooper's performance.
Cooper showed he has a lot of skills in his bag as he caught a 16-yard fade for his first score and wrestled away a 12-yard pass in heavy traffic for his second TD of the night.
The game plan was obvious. Stop Eddie Lacy and make A.J. McCarron beat you with his arm. McCarron passed the test, as he completed 22-of-30 for 180 yards and two touchdowns. He also cemented himself in the Alabama record books as he surpassed Brodie Croyle’s mark of 190 passes without an interception.
Finding Amari Cooper and other dependable route-runners is important to McCarron’s success. Even though Alabama didn’t score a touchdown in the second half, Alabama fans can start to put some trust in the young signal-caller.