We should have known immediately it wasn’t Alabama’s night. That was clear from the moment sophomore ArDarius Stewart fumbled the opening kickoff against Ole Miss, a turnover that ultimately led to a Rebels field goal. Special teams miscues have had a knack for dooming the Crimson Tide in recent years—see: Six, Kick—and this fit right in line with that trend. When senior Kenyan Drake fumbled another kickoff that would eventually generate an Ole Miss touchdown, the sense that the Rebels were destined to win Saturday’s game only grew.
But apparently Tuscaloosa is not a place suited for subtlety. Otherwise, how could we explain the fact that this happened?
Yes, this play is exactly what it looks like. On Ole Miss’s opening drive of the third quarter, junior quarterback Chad Kelly lost control of a high snap. He bobbled the ball before blindly heaving it into double coverage, where it deflected off Alabama freshman cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick’s helmet and into the unlikely arms of junior receiver Quincy Adeboyejo, who sprinted 66 euphoric yards to the end zone. There is luck, and there is fate, and there is whatever the hell that was, the football equivalent of finding a four-leaf clover attached to a rabbit’s foot hidden somewhere in a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
No. 15 Ole Miss went on to win 43–37. The Rebels improved to 3–0, while the No. 2 Crimson Tide made a furious second-half charge before succumbing to take their first loss of the year. It was a finish that seemed improbable and inevitable all at once, that shifted, perhaps fittingly, on a 73-yard touchdown that was originally flagged as a penalty.
There are ways that we could try to discuss this game sensibly, like by noting that Alabama’s offense was inconsistent, with the highlights coming primarily as a result of quarterback Jake Coker’s scrambles (seven carries for 59 yards), which is not a good thing for an attack that boasts Derrick Henry as its tailback and O.J. Howard as its tight end. We could point out that Ole Miss defensive end Robert Nkemdiche repeatedly manhandled Alabama’s offensive line, putting on a clinic that will replay on loop in NFL scouting circles. We could note that Kelly maintained his poise for the most part (18 of 33 passing for 343 yards with three touchdowns), except for the play that turned out to be his most successful of the game.
But then we must also take into account stats like this one—at one point, Ole Miss had gained 96 yards on 27 plays and somehow led 17–3—and sensibility seems pointless. Perhaps it’s best to marvel at the insanity of it all and regroup, because, through three weeks, it’s clear that’s the theme of this season in the SEC.
After all, here is what we know following a delusional first three weeks in America’s most vaunted conference: Auburn and Arkansas are the direct opposites of what we expected; LSU has a superhero in its backfield; and Florida remains undefeated. And that’s not all: Ole Miss could be primed for an even better season than last fall’s 9–4 campaign, while Georgia and Texas A&M remain terrifyingly talented but largely unknown. And then there’s Alabama, which lost to Ole Miss last year and went on to clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Tide find themselves in an identical position in 2015. It’s the type of start to a season that would be puzzling if we didn’t see it, and now it seems unimaginable that things could have played out any other way.
Ole Miss’s visit to Alabama on Saturday was a lot of things. It was hyped, it was unlikely and it was a showcase for numerous season-shaping highlights and backbreaking mistakes. It was a game that could be a launching point for a Rebels run for the ages, or it could serve as a setback before another Tide ride to glory.
But all of that remains unknowable for now. The only thing that’s clear is this: Ole Miss visited Alabama in Week 3. Sense didn’t prevail, but the Rebels did.