Alabama shows Ole Miss not in the same league two years after rivalry’s peak period

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There was a time not too long ago when Ole Miss stood up to Alabama, when goal posts came down, games were decided in the final minutes and the Crimson Tide’s supremacy in the SEC was challenged.

For three years, the Rebels were a collective thorn in Alabama’s side, forging two upsets and nearly staging a third back in 2016. 

At one point, they even caused the media to speculate Nick Saban’s dynasty was over — that, to use his words, Alabama was dead, buried and gone.

It proved a fleeting period. Scandal rocked Ole Miss. Its innovative coach, Hugh Freeze, resigned in the throes of turmoil. And all the while the mighty Tide kept rolling right along. 

By the time the two teams met again Saturday, the sliver of a gap that once separated both programs had widened into a canyon so wide it could have swallowed the town of Oxford — the site of Alabama’s latest rout, a 62-7 victory.

One year after Alabama showed no mercy in a 66-3 rout of the Rebels, it laid waste to Ole Miss again, carving up the Rebels in clinical fashion and then mocking them by using their “landshark” sign to celebrate the destruction.

In the wake of the Tide’s latest romp, Saban didn’t want to make any grand proclamations about his team.

“This is one game,” he said. “This is one game for us to grow and build confidence with our players. The thing I’m most proud of is that they came in a tough atmosphere and really responded well in terms of the way they competed in the game.”

The Tide even showed some resilience, weathering an opening salvo delivered by the Rebels that made everyone hearken back to those days when Ole Miss posed a threat to Alabama. Jordan Ta’amu’s 75-yard touchdown pass to D.K. Metcalf on the first offensive play of the game sent the crowd at Vaught-Hemingway into a tizzy and stunned Alabama in the process.

But in the shadow of the booze-filled Grove, Ole Miss and its faithful were soon faced with a sobering reality — one filled with a smorgasbord of big plays, defensive stops and touchdowns by an Alabama team that ran up and down the field with little resistance.

The onslaught started when Damien Harris tied the score with a 43-yard run 81 seconds into the game. It continued when the Tide wrested the lead with a 79-yard catch by Jerry Jeudy minutes later. And it snowballed from there as Alabama continued to land haymakers in this one-sided fight.

By halftime, the Crimson Tide accumulated 418 yards and led, 49-7. 

The two programs, separated by a small chain of highways and a state line, looked worlds apart.

Before Saturday, Saban tried to sell the idea that Ole Miss was on the rise again. He praised the Rebels’ corps of receivers, dubbed the “Nasty Wideouts.” He complimented Ta’amu. He lauded Ole Miss coach Matt Luke. 

But the Rebels proved no different than Louisville and Arkansas State — the two teams Alabama beat in the first two weeks by a combined total of 87 points.

“We look at every opponent the same, the faceless opponent,” said tight end Irv Smith Jr. “We’re really playing against ourselves. That’s what we say. We wanted to come out and make a statement on the road and show what we are capable of doing. The defense shut them out after they had one play. And the offense put up 60 points and we could have put up more. That just says it itself.”

It does in stark terms. Smith arrived at Alabama in 2016, during the last throes of a rivalry at its apex. As a freshman, he saw the Tide roar back from 21 points down at this very same stadium to steal a victory.

On the same field two years later, he contributed to a thrashing.

Ole Miss couldn’t match Alabama’s firepower, capitulating to its superior foe almost immediately. Ta’amu proved a weaker version of Tua Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide quarterback he once trained with in Hawaii when they were kids.

As Tagovailoa singed Ole Miss with two touchdown strikes and completed 73 percent of his throws for 191 yards, Ta’amu’s performance deteriorated quickly after throwing his lone touchdown pass. He connected on six of his next 21 attempts and threw a pair of interceptions — the last of which was returned 30 yards for a touchdown by Tide safety Xavier McKinney. 

That was the last major blow sustained by Ole Miss, a team that had been bloodied and bruised on a night when Alabama reaffirmed its dominance and made everyone forget there was once was time when these plucky Rebels put up a fight.

Reflecting on those days gone by in the aftermath of the 55-point conquest, Saban became almost wistful.

“We’ve won this game and we’ve lost this game,” Saban said. “And we’ve lost this game and won championships. And we’ve won this game and not done anything after that…This is one game.”

That may be so. But it once again illustrated that Alabama has ascended to a different stratosphere than the one occupied by Ole Miss — showing that in the existential sense much more divides the two divisional foes than the 165 miles of terra firma between Tuscaloosa and Oxford.

Rainer Sabin is an Alabama beat writer for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @RainerSabin 

Source : https://www.al.com/alabamafootball/index.ssf/2018/09/alabama_shows_ole_miss_not_in.html