TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama beat Ole Miss and coach Lane Kiffin at his own game last year, 63-48.
And on Saturday, No. 1 Alabama beat No. 12 Ole Miss at Alabama’s own game of old, 42-21, in front of 100,077 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Saban did not wake up as former coach Gene Stallings with tailback Sherman Williams from the 1990s, but he did revert back to Derrick Henry’s time of 2015 and the simpler days of less substitutions on defense.
Alabama (5-0) led 28-0 at the half, totally burning Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin’s pre-game interview in which he said, “Here we go, get your popcorn ready.”
Senior tailback Brian Robinson Jr. shook off a rib injury that sidelined him last week and carried a career-high – including his time at Hillcrest High in Tuscaloosa – 36 times for 171 yards and four touchdowns. His third in the third quarter put his team up 35-0.
Alabama has not had a back carry 40 times or more since Henry rushed 44 times for 189 yards in a win over Florida in the SEC Championship Game in 2015.
“I didn’t expect to have 36 carries, but that’s how it played out,” Robinson said. “I’m blessed to be able to carry that much. I never had 30 carries in all my years of playing football. Great feeling. It actually felt like old school. It started to feel like classic Alabama football of pound, pound.”
Alabama outgained Ole Miss (3-1) 451 yards to 291 in classic style.
Robinson would have carried less, but tailback Jase McClellan injured his knee and carried just six times for 28 yards. Saban said he will “probably be out for awhile.”
And Robinson “was running hot today,” Saban said. “We also wanted to keep the ball away from them.”
And Ole Miss kept dropping eight defenders in coverage, which made it easier to run.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young threw for just 241 yards and two touchdowns. Last year, Matt Jones hit 28 of 32 for 417 yards whether Ole Miss had eight players in coverage or not.
And Saban went old school on defense, too.
“We didn’t get into all this substitution stuff that was a problem last year,” said Saban, whose defense allowed an Alabama record 647 yards in 2020 to the Rebels. “The whole game plan was not to play as much situational football.”
Saban often stuck with his 11 on defense, only subbing for freshness – not strategy. Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral threw for just 213 yards as opposed to 365 last year. He was sacked twice, lost a fumble that led to a touchdown and the 28-0 deficit just before half and was hurried seven times.
“I thought the defense played extremely well,” Saban said.
Ole Miss did not score until the third quarter to pull within 35-7 and tacked on two meaningless touchdowns in the fourth quarter for the final.
“I tell it how it is, good and bad,” Kiffin said. “We got dominated up front. Matt didn’t have very much time. That’s not us doing a very good job. Credit to a really good defense.”
Kiffin also burned his own popcorn by helping that defense with three failed fourth-and-short decisions to go for it.
On the Alabama 6-yard line on the first drive of the game, Alabama stuffed tailback Jerrion Ealy for no gain. But that was an understandable decision. The Tide drove 94 yards in 13 plays to take a 7-0 lead.
But then he went for it on fourth-and-two from his 47. Corral threw incomplete, and Alabama turned that into a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Then Kiffin just got crazy, going for it on fourth-and-one from his 31. Ealy lost four yards. And Alabama took a 21-0 lead. Kiffin was 0-for-3 after coming in 12 of 14 on fourth down against three teams not Alabama.
“That gets a defense juiced,” Alabama linebacker Henry To’oTo’o said.
“I’m sure I got killed on going for it on fourth down,” Kiffin said. “That’s analytics. We believed in our players.”
But he put his players in bad situations, which is what coaches are not supposed to do. He was also overconfident about his fourth down prowess and underestimated the master, who was naturally prepared.
“We sold our players on, ‘If it’s third-and-seven, it’s really third-and-three,” Saban said. “You had to have the mindset to play two third downs. It worked out well.”
And Saban taught his brash young coaching son another lesson. He also went to 24-0 against his former assistants who become head coaches.
Next! Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M.