Ole Miss is one of the few teams that's had success against Alabama recently, and head coach Hugh Freeze thinks there are a couple of reasons for the Rebels being on the brink of history in the series.
"I think it is a combination of the confidence that has been set through playing them the four years we have been here, and playing them early is advantageous," the Rebels' fifth-year coach said.
Ole Miss (1-1) will get Alabama (2-0) again before September ends -- this Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (2:30 p.m., CBS) -- as the 19th-ranked Rebels look for their third straight win over the top-ranked Crimson Tide. Alabama has never lost to the same opponent three straight years during Nick Saban's 10-year tenure, which includes four national titles.
"I think the last two years, our preparation going into big games has been huge," Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram said. "How locked in we are, how confident we feel, and we have a lot of fun with big games like this. We know the opportunity we have."
Ole Miss has seen competition similar to what it'll face Saturday after falling to No. 2 Florida State in the teams' season opener, though the Rebels got a chance to regroup in their first win last week against FCS foe Wofford.
But Freeze said Alabama's consistently stout defensive front seven may be faster than any Saban's had, which will challenge an Ole Miss offense that scuffled in the second half against Florida State and averaged fewer than 3 yards a carry against the Seminoles. The Crimson Tide's defense has also scored more touchdowns (2) than it's allowed (1).
"I think we have to find a way to get some dirty yards, and I think we can," Freeze said. "I believe in our guys that we can. But if you think we're going to line up and rush for 300 yards against this team, that doesn't happen."
Ole Miss' defense will see an offense that still leans on a running game averaging 183 rushing yards per game, though the emergence of true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has given teams more to worry about with his legs and a strong arm to stretch defenses.
It's a chance for Ole Miss to start over after surrendering a 22-point lead in the loss to Florida State. The Rebels still have aspirations for a Southeastern Conference title and a playoff berth, but there isn't much more room for error as they begin to navigate the most important games on their schedule.
"It was a non-conference game against a really good Florida State, so it didn't determine anything for us," Engram said. "We knew that we had opportunities ahead of us like this week and the weeks so on to bounce back. We're really looking forward to this opportunity. We have our confidence, but it would be huge for us to get this win."
Said offensive lineman Javon Patterson, "We're playing the No. 1 team, and it's a great opportunity to take this, be at our home stage in a new stadium and everything like that. The crowd is going to be electric."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Chad Kelly is the best most established quarterback in the Southeastern Conference after becoming just the third player in league history to throw for at least 4,000 yards in a season. The senior is throwing for 266 yards a game and has an SEC-best seven touchdown passes.
--LT Rod Taylor has stepped in for Laremy Tunsil at left tackle, but the junior is rotating with true freshman Greg Little, a five-star signee. Taylor spent his first two seasons inside at guard, but coaches like his footwork and athleticism at 329 pounds.
--TE Evan Engram has already become a bigger part of the offense this season after getting somewhat lost a year ago. Engram, an All-SEC selection, caught less than 40 passes last season but already has 11 catches for 164 yards and a score through two games.
--S Tony Conner is back after a torn meniscus cost him seven games a season ago. The Rebels' nickel corner, Conner has the versatility to keep up with slot receivers in coverage and be a physical presence in run support -- dual abilities the Rebels struggled to make up for in Conner's' absence a season ago.