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Jon Johnson column: Gambling by Kiffin backfired this time
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Jon Johnson column: Gambling by Kiffin backfired this time

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Mississippi Alabama Football

Mississippi head coach Lane Kiffin paces the sidelines during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

TUSCALOOSA – You want to roll the dice against Alabama, you pay the piper.

I must have been California dreaming to really believe the golden arm of Ole Miss QB Matt Corral and a seemingly improved Rebel defense would put up a battle against the No. 1-ranked team in the land.

The gambling of Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin right out of the gates didn’t give his team much of a chance in this one.

It shouldn’t surprise to see Kiffin betting on his offense early on like he was engaged in games of chance aboard a riverboat casino. That’s his flamboyant style and he has the weapons at his disposal to make it work against most teams.

Alabama isn’t “most teams.”

Going for it on fourth down without hesitation shows the confidence he has in the Rebels and that style had Ole Miss unbeaten and ranked No. 12 in the nation going into Saturday’s game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

But odds are you’ll come out on the losing end if you get too risky against a Nick Saban-coached defense. Surely the former Tide offensive coordinator knew such.

Well, maybe not.

Kiffin kept pushing the limits early on and his team found itself down four touchdowns by halftime during what would end up being a 42-21 whipping at the hands of Alabama and his former boss.

There’s nothing wrong with being a bit brash and taking some risks, but some of the decisions Kiffin made early on put his players in a mess they couldn’t begin to overcome.

That’s not to say things would have ended any differently in the win-loss column, but fact is his gambles backfired and ultimately cost his team any chance at all.

Let’s first look back to the final minute of the first quarter when the Rebels went for it on fourth-and-2 from its own 47-yard line and already trailing 7-0.

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As the Ole Miss offense came to the line of scrimmage with the play prepared, Kiffin frantically waved his hands to get the attention of Corral for a play change on the fly. An adjustment didn’t work, however, as Corral threw incomplete in giving the ball back to Alabama in Rebel territory.

Ten plays later and Alabama was back in the end zone – doing so ironically on a fourth-and-1 call – as Brian Robinson Jr. ran straight up the gut and into the end zone.

At that early juncture of the game Ole Miss had gone for it four times on fourth down, converting twice. The other stop came on the opening drive as the Rebels impressively drove down the field, only to come away empty when running back Jerrion Ealy was pummeled to the ground for no gain on fourth-and-1 from the Alabama 6 as nose guard Tim Smith shot threw and smashed him.

Alabama promptly drove 94 yards for the game’s first touchdown when Alabama quarterback Bryce Young connected with John Metchie from 16 yards out.

Not to be deterred even though down 14 with under seven minutes to play before halftime, Kiffin went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Rebels’ 31 and Ealy was dropped for a 4-yard loss by Tide linebacker Henry To’oTo’o.

In no time Alabama had scored again to lead 21-0, and after recovering a fumble on the ensuing Ole Miss possession, made it 28-0 before time expired to end the first half.

It was all over but the shouting.

Now while Kiffin’s decisions can and should be scrutinized, let’s also give credit where credit is due.

Alabama’s defense rose to the occasion on those crucial fourth-down calls – stuffing an offense that had been running roughshod over every team it had faced.

Do you think those in the crimson jerseys may have been thinking a little bit about how the Rebels put 48 points on the scoreboard against them last year? Sweet revenge for sure.

And let’s not overlook the much-anticipated Heisman Trophy candidate battle between Young and Corral.

The numbers show the newcomer Young completing 21-of-27 for 241 yards with a touchdown and an interception and the veteran Corral completing 22-of-30 for 213 yards and a TD, most of his coming after the game was already decided.

There is a lot of football to be played in the coming weeks, but on this Saturday Young was better than Corral, Saban taught his former pupil Kiffin another lesson and Alabama, behind the 171 yards rushing and four touchdowns from Robinson Jr., was better – much, much better – than Ole Miss.

And you can take that to the bank.

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