Rapid Reaction: Smith, Tagovailoa and No. 2 Alabama knock out Ole Miss
Mike Tyson used to say that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.
The second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide had a plan Saturday against Ole Miss … right until they got punched in the mouth. Fortunately for Alabama, it continued to punch back instead of letting college football’s latest tomato can get a second shot in.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa offered more Heisman Trophy bona fides — throwing for 416 yards and setting a single-game school record with six touchdown passes — and receiver DeVonta Smith also delivered a record-setting afternoon to pace the Tide to a 59-31 knockout victory over Ole Miss inside sweltering Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Smith had 274 receiving yards and five touchdowns — both school records — on 11 catches as the Crimson Tide moved to 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the SEC. Ole Miss fell to 2-3, 1-1.
Tagovailoa also added a rushing score for a career total of 86 total touchdowns accounted for, passing the record of 80 by AJ McCarron. And the Tide’s sweet Hawaiian prince also tied McCarron’s 77 career TD passes.
Alabama went for the quick knockout within the first 90 seconds against the nation’s 114th-ranked pass defense, as Tagovailoa hit Smith on a slant-and-go for a 74-yard score and a nearly instant 7-0 lead.
The Tide defense forced a quick 3-and-out and all the judges’ scorecards were clean when Ole Miss punted the rock to Jaylen Waddle — who proceeded to muff it in spectacular fashion right back to the Rebels. Never one to look a gift turnover in the mouth, Ole Miss punched it into the end zone to tie it on a 1-yard TD run by freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee.
With coach Matt Luke jumping around on the Ole Miss sideline and the Rebels buoyed by the tie score, Alabama both misfired and went down a player on the following drive. WR Henry Ruggs III went down with a left leg injury on the Tide’s second possession without even being touched, and the Rebels defense stuffed a Tagovailoa screen pass then Alabama committed a false start to back out of field goal range.
Clearly the cooler team in their baby blue helmets and white uniforms on a near-100-degree afternoon, Ole Miss kept right on punching to take the lead — engineering a 13-play, 65-yard drive that culminated in a Luke Logan 33-yard field goal for a 10-7 advantage.
With Alabama trailing Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian didn’t appear panicked. Instead, Angelo Dundee-style, Alabama went to … wait for it … the rushing game on the next drive. Brian Robinson Jr. ripped off runs of 12 and 10 yards, Smith took a pitch that was a pass only by definition 10 more yards into the red zone. From there, Robinson ripped off another 8-yarder to set up Tagovailoa’s 7-yard scramble and a 14-10 Tide advantage.
As Alabama’s defense began to solve the Plumlee riddle, the Tide started to stifle the Rebels on both sides of the ball. The defense forced an Ole Miss punt and cashed in for a 33-yard Joseph Bulovas field goal to make it 17-10. Then another Ole Miss punt that barely got past midfield set up the Tide in perfect position … with Smith making the Rebels look silly on a 25-yard TD catch for a 24-10 lead.
Smith wasn’t nearly done with his record-setting first half. Alabama got the ball back with 4:54 remaining and after two near-miss TD passes to his teammates, Smith snagged a 23-yard TD pass that gave him 188 receiving yards and a career-best 3 TDs … in less than 30 minutes.
And the coup de grace on the best half of Smith’s life? That came with 1:23 to play, as Tagovailoa spun a perfect left hook to the junior for a 33-yard TD that gave him 221 yards — just 3 yards away from the record — and gave Alabama a 38-10 lead.
Earlier in the week, SDS predicted that the Alabama single-game record of 224 receiving yards could fall against Ole Miss — but it seemed either Ruggs or Jerry Jeudy were poised to break Amari Cooper’s record set twice in 2014.
Not anymore. Gashing an SEC-caliber defense like Smith did Saturday not only sends defensive coordinators around the country into twitchy fits, it also makes NFL scouts and draft pundits salivate all over themselves.
And the manner in which Alabama took over the game was Tyson-like in both speed and destruction. The Tide didn’t toy with the Rebels like a cat would a mouse. Instead, Tagovailoa, Smith and Co. kept throwing hands reminiscent of the Baddest Man On The Planet.
And the final knockout punch for Smith? A tip-toeing 27-yard TD grab at the left pylon on the Tide’s first third-quarter possession to make it 45-10. That catch gave Smith 9 receptions on the afternoon, also a career high, on 9 targets.
But the icing on the cake was Alabama’s first non-offensive touchdown of the season, as Ale Kaho blocked and recovered an Ole Miss punt in the end zone to make it 52-17.
Plumlee finished passed for two touchdowns, including a 9-yarder pass to Jerrion Ealy after the game was out of reach, and led the Rebels with 109 rushing yards.
What beckons next for Alabama? A week off before traveling to play a No. 23 Texas A&M team that barely squeaked past lowly Arkansas on Saturday. Ole Miss gets Vanderbilt at home.