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FIGHTING FATIGUE: Rebels’ defense turns ‘Bama away at the end

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Ole Miss continued its season with its biggest test yet as the Rebels ventured to Tuscaloosa on Saturday to face off against Alabama, which turned out to be a stiffer test for the defense.

While most will remember the game for the big plays that Ole Miss was able to produce on offense, it was the late defensive stops that ultimately won the Rebels the game. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze noted that the defense was gassed near the end of the game, and that he was scared to use too much tempo.

“They had 100 plays, and that just wore our defense out,” Freeze said. “I was scared to go tempo. It seemed like they needed a break every time.”

The Crimson Tide had two chances to drive the field and score the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The drives started from Alabama’s 33- and 31-yard lines, respectively.

The Ole Miss defense was able to thwart Alabama on both attempts. The first drive ended when cornerback Tony Bridges intercepted Alabama quarterback Jake Coker with an assist from the pressure of Marquis Haynes, who hit Coker as he threw, and the second came to a halt after four incomplete passes in a row from Coker.

The defense appeared to be physically drained in the waning parts of the fourth quarter, and Freeze could see it.

“This was our first time on the road,” Freeze said. “It was emotional, and we were drained.”

Freeze was not the only person on the Ole Miss sideline to feel the physical and emotional toll of the game. Robert Nkemdiche, who had the most impactful game of his Ole Miss career, was one of many defenders who also felt the effects of being on the field for 35 minutes, 25 seconds.

“It was tough,” Nkemdiche said. “I mean, that’s a good football team man. It was a fight to the end. My body is so sore, and I can’t wait to go recover.”

Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack could tell his unit was tired in the second half. Alabama, which rallied from 20 down to cut the deficit to a touchdown and got an extra possession late with an onside kick, ended up running 100 plays compared to Ole Miss’ 65.

“Yeah, we kind of ran out of some personnel, but we need to go back and look at some things, too,” Wommack said. “You have to give them credit. You knew they wouldn’t ever lie down, you know. That’s not what Alabama is made of, and it was just a war. And we’re going to have seven more of them here in the SEC. That’s the way these games are.”