OXFORD, Miss. — Alabama coach Nick Saban doesn’t know how many of these roller coaster rides he can take.
He watched his top-ranked squad fall behind by three touchdowns and then come roaring back. And when his Tide looked to be in control and leading No. 19 Mississippi by 18 points in the fourth quarter, ‘Bama nearly blew it.
By the end of Alabama’s 48-43 victory over Ole Miss in a Southeastern Conference showdown on Saturday, a weary, bleary-eyed Saban looked exhausted when the clock finally hit all zeroes.
“It was an unbelievable game for fans to watch,” the 64-year-old Saban said with a wry smile. “It was really a difficult game for an old coach to have to suffer through. But we made it. We made it and I’m really proud of our players.”
Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts threw for 158 yards and ran for 146 more, but it was unlikely defensive touchdowns from Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne — along with a special teams score from Eddie Jackson — that proved to be the biggest plays of the game.
Ole Miss (1-2, 0-1 SEC) looked like it might be on its way to a third straight win over the Tide late in the second quarter. Instead, it was the Rebels’ second collapse in three games .
“We scored enough points to beat an Alabama team,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “But we did not stop the run and we did not take care of the ball.”
Mississippi took a 24-3 lead with 2:47 remaining in the first half after defensive end Marquis Haynes’ big hit on Hurts, forcing a fumble that fellow defensive lineman John Youngblood scooped up and ran 44 yards for a touchdown.
But Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC) responded.
The Tide needed just three plays and 37 seconds to pull within 24-10 after Calvin Ridley ran for a 6-yard score. Ole Miss was forced to punt on the next drive and Jackson returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown, evading several tacklers before bolting down the right sideline for the touchdown.
In just 65 seconds, Alabama had turned a 21-point deficit into a manageable 24-17 game at halftime.
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly threw for a career-high 421 yards and three touchdowns, but it was two costly turnovers in the second half that handed the game to Alabama.
Kelly fumbled deep in Ole Miss territory and Payne recovered before scoring a 3-yard touchdown to tie the game at 24. In the fourth quarter, the Rebels QB was under pressure and threw a ball right to Alabama’s 291-pound Allen, who ran the ball back for a 75-yard touchdown and a 48-30 Crimson Tide lead.
Allen said it was his first touchdown since middle school.
“It was a great play and it couldn’t have come at a better time for this team to get this win tonight,” Allen said.
Ole Miss scored two late touchdowns but Alabama was able to run out the clock for the win.
“We thought this was going to be a 60-minute game,” Saban said. “We knew we probably would have to wear them down and beat them in the second half.”
Alabama: Coach Nick Saban and Alabama finally beat Ole Miss after two straight losses against the Rebels. Alabama was tested, but is once again the team to beat in the SEC Western Division.
Mississippi: It’s another frustrating collapse for the Rebels, who also led 28-6 against Florida State in the season opener before losing 45-34 to the Seminoles.
Alabama’s rally from 21 points down tied the largest in school history. Alabama’s other 21-point comeback also came against Ole Miss, when the Tide recovered for a 62-27 win in 1989.
Saban said that receiver ArDarius Stewart missed most of the game because of a sprained knee, though the coach added, “We don’t think it’s severe.”
Alabama: The Tide will almost certainly remain at No. 1 after a difficult, but resilient win on the road against a ranked opponent.
Mississippi: With a 1-2 record, the Rebels will probably fall out of the Top 25 despite losing to two ranked opponents.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide host Kent State next Saturday.
Mississippi: The Rebels have another important SEC game, hosting Georgia next Saturday.