TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The ground game performance turned in by Ole Miss football in a 24-10 loss to Alabama on Saturday was the worst by the Rebels since Lane Kiffin took over as their coach ahead of the 2020 season.
Ole Miss managed just 56 rushing yards against the Crimson Tide, which held the Rebels to 1.9 yards per rush on 29 attempts. Quinshon Judkins, who led the SEC in rushing in 2022 and posted 135 yards in a loss to Alabama last season, rushed 13 times for 56 yards.
"These guys are notoriously hard to run the ball on," Kiffin said.
With those 29 rushing attempts, the Rebels narrowly missed out on their single-game low-water mark of 28 under Kiffin, whose offenses are built around running the ball effectively.
Kiffin explained postgame that the Alabama defensive front showed a look that called for quarterback Jaxson Dart to pass the ball on many of Ole Miss' run-pass option plays, and that contributed to the low carry count for his running backs. Ulysses Bentley IV, Judkins' primary backup, received just one carry. No other Ole Miss running back touched the ball.
"The numbers kind of got out of whack there, not on purpose," Kiffin said. "But you ain't gonna just turn and hand the ball off against these guys over time and beat them in my opinion. You gotta be able to hit some shots and move the ball around and make the plays when they're there, because they're not going to give you a ton of them."
Perhaps more troubling than Ole Miss' ineffectiveness in the ground game on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium is the reality that this was not a one-time blip on the radar. The Rebels sit 10th in the SEC with 146.8 rushing yards per game. Their average of 4.4 yards per carry is tied for 8th in the conference.
Under Kiffin, Ole Miss has led the SEC in rushing twice in three full seasons. In nine seasons between Alabama, FAU and Ole Miss, Kiffin's offenses have paced their conference's ground game four times and never finished below sixth.
After a poor showing on the ground in Week 2 against Tulane, Kiffin said he was highly concerned about his team's rushing attack. It's tough to imagine those concerns have diminished after this week.
Ole Miss football: Rebels feel they've missed their chance
The postgame message from Kiffin and the Ole Miss players centered around a missed opportunity to take down Alabama.
The perceived vulnerability of the Crimson Tide heading into this game played a part in that, but so did the changing SEC schedule. Alabama is no longer a protected opponent for the Rebels, and it won't be on the schedule in 2024.
"Disappointing, especially when you don't get these guys again at least for a year," Kiffin said.
The loss marked the eighth consecutive defeat for Ole Miss in this series.
Kiffin, who worked for Alabama coach Nick Saban as offensive coordinator from 2014-16, has not yet beaten his old boss. Of his four defeats since arriving in Oxford, Saturday's was the third to come by at least two scores.
"Our whole team felt like this was the year to get them," Dart said.
David Eckert covers Ole Miss for the Clarion Ledger. Email him at email@example.com or reach him on Twitter @davideckert98.
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This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Lane Kiffin explains why Ole Miss football couldn't run vs. Alabama