OXFORD, MISS – The University of Mississippi and Alabama waged war for four quarters, but it was the 9th-ranked Crimson Tide that came out on top, 30-24, at a packed Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday.
The Rebels (8-2, 4-2 SEC) got out to a 17-7 lead with 5:09 to go in the first half, but Alabama (8-2, 5-2 SEC) bounced back and outscored the Rebels 23-7 the remainder of the game. The Rebel offense tallied 403 yards, and the defensive effort kept the Rebels in the game down the stretch, holding Alabama to just 317 yards of total offense – their fewest since 2012. But despite the almost 100-yard disparity, the Crimson Tide’s defense held the Rebels at bay when it counted.
“It is what it is, but it’s just a shame,” head coach Lane Kiffin said. “Unfortunately it’s just going to be one of those games you remember your whole life. It was right there with a chance to win.”
The Rebels opened the scoring near the end of the first quarter. A one-yard Quinshon Judkins rush put the Rebels up 7-0 with 1:43 to go in the opening quarter, capping a 68-yard drive of 11 plays that took 4:20 off the clock.
It was the first of two rushing scores for Judkins, who became the Rebels’ single-season leader in rushing touchdowns with his 14th and 15th scores, breaking the previous record of 14 set by legendary Rebel names Kayo Dottley (1949), Archie Manning (1969), Deuce McAllister (2000) and Brandon Bolden (2010). Judkins ended the day with 135 yards on the ground, pushing him to No. 2 on the single-season yards list as well at 1,171.
On the next drive, the Rebel defense got a huge stop from Otis Reese (10 tackles) to give the Rebels the ball back early in the second quarter. Nine plays later, the Rebels led 10-0 on a 22-yard field goal by Jonathan Cruz, with 12:07 to go in the half.
Alabama responded though, and drove the football 80 yards in seven plays, with defending Heisman winner Bryce Young connecting on a 19-yard scoring pass to Jermaine Burton with 8:55 to go before halftime to cut the Rebels lead to 10-7.
Judkins’ second and record-breaking rushing score with 5:09 in the second quarter put the Rebels back in front 17-7, but the Crimson Tide would get a break soon.
On the next Rebel drive, Zach Evans fumbled at his own 23-yard line with 2:23 to go before the break, and the Tide took advantage. Young connected with Cameron Latu for a touchdown with eight seconds to go before halftime, and Reichard’s PAT pulled his team to with 17-14 at halftime.
The Rebel defense got a victory of its own early in the third, stopping the Alabama offense, which had to settle for a 49-yard Reichard field goal with 12:31 to go in the third to tie the score 17-17.
The Rebels answered, though, to regain the lead. Quarterback Jaxson Dart led his troops on an 11-play, 75-yard march for a touchdown. On 2nd-and-Goal from the 3-yard line, Dart threw a literal dart in the left flat to Mingo for a touchdown with 7:28 to go in the third, and the Cruz PAT made it a 24-17 Rebels lead.
But Young continued to lead his team back on his way to a 209-yard, three touchdown day through the air. A five-yard touchdown strike to Ja’Corey Brooks culminated a time-consuming 14-play drive that took 6:05 off the game clock, with the PAT knotting things up 24-24 with 1:23 to go in the third quarter.
The Rebels had its chances in the final quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter at his own 24, Dart ran but couldn’t pick up a needed first down, and the Crimson Tide took advantage of good field position after the punt, as Reichard connected on a 23-yard field goal to push Alabama up 27-24 with 11:19 to go.
Alabama continued to chew the clock after another defensive stop, as Reichard capped off a nine-play drive that took 4:04 with a 49-yard field goal with just 2:23 left to play.
Trailing 30-24, the Rebels got its final shot and entered its two-minute offense with two timeouts at its disposal.
Judkins made things happen on the drive, highlighted by a big 35-yard run to the Alabama 31-yard line. After another Judkins pickup of 14 yards, the Rebels was knocking on the door at the Alabama 14, but were unable to convert as an incomplete pass in the endzone to wide receiver Jonathan Mingo on fourth down sealed the game.
“Really disappointing finish, to that game, to your home winning streak on the line,” Kiffin said. “Playing Alabama, with ball in our hands to win. We didn’t do it.”
Dart rushed 16 times for 35 yards and was 18-of-31 for 212 yards and a touchdown in the passing department. Mingo had seven of those receptions, while Malik Heath had 123 yards on six receptions for a productive day.
“There’s not some magic formula of we got to go change all those things or do all these things different,” Kiffin said. “Games come down to one possession, one play games like that, one side makes the plays and finds a way to win. Those guys have been in a number of them this year.”
The Rebels will hit the road to take on Arkansas (5-5, 2-4 SEC) next Saturday (Nov. 19), with kickoff set for either 6:00 or 6:30 p.m. CT on either ESPN or SEC Network.