Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Special teams struggles, Alabama falls to Ole Miss

OXFORD, Miss. — On a night marred by injuries, turnovers, penalties and missed field goals, No. 3 Alabama fell to the No. 11 Ole Miss Rebels 23-17 Saturday night, toppled like the goalposts in the post-game celebration.

From the opening kickoff, when Ole Miss running back Mark Dodson returned the kick 54 yards, to Christion Jones’ fumble on a kickoff return with the game tied 17-17 late in the 4th quarter, Alabama’s special teams struggled all night. Sophomore kicker Adam Griffith particularly struggled, missing two field goals, making only a 44-yard attempt.

“Dropped balls, turnovers, penalties, those kind of things are not something you can do against a good football team, especially playing on the road,” coach Nick Saban said. “We need to overcome those things and we certainly were unable to do it today.”

The Crimson Tide never hit its stride in the first quarter, but controlled the second, scoring on a Blake Sims bootleg run and a Cyrus Jones fumble return to go up 14-3 at halftime.

Alabama’s second half sputtered more than started, with a promising opening drive falling short after Sims took two tackles for a 10-yard total loss and Griffith missed the target on a 51-yard field goal attempt.

“So many times today, we drove the ball down the field. We’d get it down inside the 30 – it reminded me of the LSU game two years ago when we lost at home – and then get negative plays, making a more difficult field goal circumstance, which we didn’t advantage of,” Saban said. “We never did anything to take the momentum of the game back in the second half.”

Defensively, Alabama’s secondary struggled against Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace and the Rebels aerial attack. A pair of blown pass coverages resulted in the first Ole Miss touchdown of the game when Wallace connected with tight end Evan Engram for a 50-yard gain and found receiver Laquon Treadwell two plays later for a 14-yard touchdown. All told, Alabama gave up 251 yards through the air.

“It’s miscommunication,” linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “We’ve got to come on and communicate better. Hand signals and whatever we’ve got to do to get better.”

Alabama’s offense stalled again on the next drive, but Griffith made his only field goal of the night, giving Alabama a 17-10 lead, its last score of the night. Wallace passed to wide receiver Vince Sanders to tie the game with 5:29 to play. Jones fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the Rebels the ball on the Alabama 31-yard line. Five plays later, Wallace found running back Jaylon Walton on a 10-yard touchdown pass, giving Ole Miss the 23-13 lead.

“I didn’t think we finished the game like we needed to on defense,” Saban said. “We’re ahead 14-3 in the game and basically gave up a play that was a mental error in coverage. That gave Ole Miss the momentum of the game, and we never really got it back.”

Alabama had the chance to win the game on its final drive, with Sims engineering a drive from the Crimson Tide’s own 13-yard line to the Ole Miss 32-yard line, but Rebel defensive back Sanquez Golson picked off a pass meant for O.J. Howard in the end-zone with 37 seconds remaining, effectively ending the game.

“Blake made a good throw on that,” Howard said. “I didn’t see the guy behind me, the safety behind me.”

Three Alabama players were injured on the day. Junior running back Kenyan Drake suffered a broken leg and returned to Birmingham immediately, according to Saban, who said he expected him to be out for “most of the season.” Linebacker Denzel Devall left the game with a high ankle sprain, and center Ryan Kelly sustained a knee injury in the second half.

“They’re all critical,” Saban said. “We used two timeouts in the second half because we couldn’t get the ball snapped. Blake was checking, he was asking for the ball, [replacement center Bradley Bozeman] was not snapping the ball. We would have had two more penalties if we didn’t use timeouts. I think it’s critical when you lose any player. Denzel Devall has been a really good player on our team. Kenyan Drake has been an explosive guy that’s made a lot of plays for us this year so far. Ryan Kelly is probably the anchor of the offensive line, in terms of the job at center but he also makes a lot of line calls that makes everybody else play better.”

Alabama (4-1, 1-1 SEC) will try to get back on track when it travels to play Arkansas (3-2, 0-2 SEC) next weekend.

“We have a lot of things to work on and to fix so that we can become the team we want to become,” Saban said. “Every goal that we have as a team is still in front of us. We must improve and respond the right way to losing.”

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