TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The defense kept giving Alabama back the ball, and the offense repeatedly delivered it into Brian Robinson Jr.’s hands.
It was a simple but oh so effective formula.
Robinson rushed for career highs of 171 yards and four touchdowns, and No. 1 Alabama mostly throttled the nation’s top offense in a 42-21 victory Saturday over No. 12 Mississippi.
Bryce Young passed for a couple of touchdowns for the Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) but the ‘Bama defense and ground game stole some of the thunder from a matchup of the two leading Heisman Trophy contenders coming into the game.
“It was a great opportunity for us today to show how physical we can play for 60 minutes,” said Robinson, a fifth-year senior who carried 36 times in his first 100-yard game.
Alabama turned to Robinson to play keep away from Matt Corral and the offense of the Rebels (3-1, 0-1), who had breezed through three nonconference games before an open date but had some gambles that backfired.
Nick Saban improved to 24-0 against his former assistants, but ex-offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin didn’t help his own cause with three failed fourth-down calls in the first half. Saban turned the tables with two touchdowns on fourth-down plays.
“I’m sure I got killed by going for it on fourth down, but that’s analytics,” Kiffin said. “We believe in our players, and it doesn’t work all the time. When it doesn’t work and you follow the book, it doesn’t look good.”
Young completed 21 of 27 passes for 241 yards and was intercepted once for Alabama, which led 28-0 at halftime. Oddsmakers had him as the second-leading Heisman candidate coming into the game, behind only Corral.
The Rebels star ran for a touchdown but was mostly held in check by a team he torched last season. Corral also passed for a touchdown, completing 22 of 32 passes for 213 yards while losing a fumble. Corral extended his streak of games with a TD pass to 16 games with 2:23 left, matching Eli Manning for the second-longest such streak at Ole Miss.
“We got dominated up front,” Kiffin said. “That ain’t hard to see. Matt didn’t have much time. We had negative runs.”
Alabama’s defense, burned by Ole Miss for 48 points and 647 yards a year ago, made the big fourth-down stops and plenty of others.
The Tide limited Ole Miss to 291 total yards, despite giving up a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. The Rebels came in leading the nation with 635 yards and 53 points per game but couldn’t get that tempo going consistently this time.
“We prepared all week for it,” Alabama defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis said. “We knew it was coming and we worked our tails off. I think that really got us ready for the fastball all week long.”
Ole Miss was without second-leading receiver Jonathan Mingo, who was wearing a boot on his left foot and didn’t dress out.
“We played the whole game in the same personnel group, so we didn’t get into all this substitution stuff that was a problem for us last year,” Saban said.
Alabama backup tailback Jase McClelland left with a knee injury and Saban said the early indication is “he’s probably going to be out for a while.”
Ole Miss: Kiffin finally had that fourth-down magic fade away, trying to find an edge against an uber-talented opponent. The Rebels had converted 12 of 14 coming into the game, but had questionable decisions backfire this time.
Alabama: Flexed its muscles in the first of four games against SEC West teams currently ranked, especially on defense. But Young faced a significant amount of pressure and forced one ball toward the end zone for an interception while scrambling and the defense had some lapses late.
FOURTH DOWNS Ole Miss wasn’t the only team going for it on fourth down. The Rebels converted 2 of 5 and Alabama 3 of 4.
Saban prepared his defensive players for Kiffin’s fourth-down attempts, saying, “You’ve got to have the mind-set that you’re going to play two third downs.”
Alabama did nothing to diminish its status as the No. 1 team, but could lose some ground to second-ranked Georgia. The Bulldogs demolished No. 8 Arkansas, 37-0.
UP NEXT Ole Miss hosts Arkansas, with both teams coming off losses.
Alabama visits No. 15 Texas A&M in its third game against a ranked team away from home.