OXFORD, Miss. — After a touchdown-filled, humidity-drenched Southeastern Conference showdown, No. 1 Alabama and coach Nick Saban are still undefeated.
“We’ve got coaches getting IVs, we’ve got players getting IVs,” the 64-year-old Saban said on Saturday night before bragging on himself a little. “But the old fella doesn’t need an IV. Because they don’t make ’em like they used to.”
Saban and the Crimson Tide were exhausted after a 48-43 victory over No. 19 Mississippi, which included a stunning comeback after falling into a 24-3 hole late in the second quarter. The 21-point comeback was tied for the largest in school history and the win snapped a two-game losing streak against the Rebels.
It’s only three weeks into the regular season, but Alabama already has two impressive wins. The first was a 52-6 win over then-No. 20 Southern California. The other was Saturday’s hard-fought road win over the Rebels.
Now the Tide (3-0, 1-0 SEC) should hit an easier stretch in their schedule. Alabama hosts Kent State and Kentucky over the next two weeks.
Saban didn’t talk about those opponents after the win on Saturday. What he did mention was the one major thing on his mind: Rest.
“I think we need a little break here, a little recovery,” Saban said. “This was a tough game. We need to get some of these guys back healthy and get ready for the next game and the improvements we have to make.
“There are so many lessons to be learned from this game. So many opportunities to teach. It’ll be good for our staff and our players.”
Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts threw for 158 yards and ran for 146 more, but the biggest plays were touchdowns by defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne and an 85-yard punt return for a score by Eddie Jackson.
Because of the heat and the physical nature of the game, Saban said the Tide used some inexperienced players down the stretch. Most performed admirably.
“We needed just about every guy we had to contribute in some way,” Saban said.
Alabama managed to get out of the game without any major injuries, though Saban said receiver ArDarius Stewart could miss some time with a sprained knee.
Stewart caught four passes for just two yards before leaving the game in the second quarter. He’s caught 13 passes for 205 yards and a team-high three touchdowns this season.
Getting Stewart back on the field will be a priority for the Tide. So will fixing some of the problems that caused them to give up 43 points against the Rebels.
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly threw for a career-high 421 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Saban was particularly bothered by an eight-second stretch of the fourth quarter that saw the Tide’s lead shrink from 48-30 to 48-43.
The Rebels completed two touchdown passes and recovered an onside kick in those eight seconds before Alabama was able to restore order and come out with the win.
“We’ve got to do a much better job on defense not giving up explosive plays,” Saban said. “We didn’t play that bad on defense, but then we’d have mental errors, gave up explosive plays and sometimes didn’t play the ball very well in the deep part of the field.”