Eddie Jackson got what he asked for, then he delivered.
This week, the Alabama senior lobbied to be the Crimson Tide’s punt returner. With his team down 14 points late in the second quarter he showed just how dangerous he can be in the role, returning a punt 85 yards for a touchdown.
Jackson returned two punts on the day for a total of 95 yards. After returning an interception for a touchdown last week, he revealed he had asked Alabama coaches to let him use his return skills on special teams.
Jackson is the third punt returner the Tide has used in as many games. Sophomore receiver Calvin Ridley had the role in Week 1 before true freshman Trevon Diggs took over in Week 2.
Jackson’s touchdown was the fourth in his Alabama career. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns last season. It also marks the fifth straight game Alabama has scored a non-offensive touchdown.
Da’Ron Payne later scored a touchdown on a fumble return after Ryan Anderson stripped Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly in the third quarter. After that, defensive end Jonathan Allen returned an interception 75 yards for a score. Alabama has now scored 51 non-offensive touchdowns since head coach Nick Saban took over the team in 2007.
“Defensively we didn’t play great. We gave up too many plays, but we scored on defense,” Saban said. “That was huge in the game... All things from all players contributed in a great team win.”
The Crimson Tide have scored five non-offensive touchdowns this season.
Running away with it
True freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts became the first Alabama quarterback to rush for 100 yards under Saban.
Hurts, who was making his first SEC start, rushed for 146 yards on 18 carries, an average of 8.1 yard per attempt. The performance ranks fifth all time among Alabama quarterbacks in a single game. Harry Gilmer holds the Alabama record with 216 yards against Kentucky in 1945. The last Tide quarterback to rush for 100 yards was Tyler Watts, who rushed for 110 yards against Ole Miss in 2001.
Hurts was joined by sophomore running back Damien Harris, who rushed for 144 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. The duo gave the Tide two 100-yard rushers in the same game for the 18th time in school history.
“The guys up front, the O-Line, they opened up so many holes for us,” Harris said. “To be able to seal the game like that, it’s big.”
Axing the competition
Wide receiver ArDarius Stewart injured in the first half and did not return to the game, but the senior’s presence was felt on the sideline.
Stewart was seen motivating his team while carrying an axe up and down the sidelines. After the game, linebacker Reuben Foster explained the axe was there to represent the receivers’ assassins mentality.
The axe, however, caught Saban by surprise as the head coach did not know what to think about it during the game.
“I was going to ask him before I leave, I don’t know much about it,” Saban said. “I don’t think it had any impact in the game, I’d rather have him have his stuff on out there playing.”
After the game, Saban listed Stewart as questionable for next week’s game with a knee sprain.
First things first
Alabama extended its nation-leading streak by scoring in the first half for the 121st straight game. The streak was continued in the first quarter when kicker Adam Griffith connected on a 32-yard field goal.
The last time Alabama failed to score in the first half was during a game against Florida State in 2007, as the two teams headed into the half scoreless. The Seminoles went on to win that game 21-14.
During its current streak, Alabama holds a 103-16 record.
Ole Miss packed Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in powder blue Saturday, as a crowd of 66,176 people set a record for the largest crowd to attend a football game in Mississippi state history.
Ole Miss had been encouraging its fans to wear powder blue for the weeks, and rumors were speculating the Rebels would surprise the fans by switching to their light blue uniforms at the last minutes. Ole Miss, however, took to the field in navy uniforms with a navy helmet.