No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, Ole Miss Rebels preview: Alabama hopes to end the madness

By The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 27, 2017 at 3:49 PM
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The game between No. 1 Alabama and Ole Miss on Saturday looks like a mismatch, with the Crimson Tide favored by four touchdowns at home.

But it's still hard to shake the memories of the recent history of the series. Over the past three years, this game went from being another easy 'Bama victory to one of the most wild and crazy matchups in the SEC.

In 2014, Ole Miss stormed back in the second half to knock off Alabama for the first time in 10 tries. In 2015, Ole Miss took advantage of five Alabama turnovers and beat the Crimson Tide in back-to-back games for the first time ever. It was Alabama's lone loss of its national championship run that season.

Last year, Alabama slipped by with a 48-43 victory. The Tide roared back from a 24-3 first-half deficit and then held off the Rebels in the final minutes.

"This is a team that has beaten us two out of the last three years, and we've played some really shootout kind of games with them," Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

Ole Miss, which was off last week, lost at California 27-16 in its most recent game. Prior to that, Ole Miss (2-1) earned wins over South Alabama and Tennessee-Martin, posting a combined 92 points.

Ole Miss sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson and his plethora of receivers are off to a fast start for the nation's fourth-ranked passing offense. Patterson is throwing for 427 yards per game while completing more than 70 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

A.J. Brown is Patterson's go-to target with an SEC-leading 129.7 receiving yards per game, although he is dealing with a strained knee and is expected to be a game-time decision.

This should be a good test for Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC), which is coming off a 59-0 pounding of Vanderbilt last weekend.

"They lost all of these players (to the NFL Draft) and you think they're going to take a step back," Ole Miss interim head coach Matt Luke said of Alabama's defense. "But you turn the tape on and they're every bit as good."

Luke is taking over for Hugh Freeze, the Ole Miss coach who led the Rebels to those back-to-back wins over Alabama. He resigned before the season amid an NCAA investigation.

Under Freeze, Ole Miss deployed a high-octane offense. Saban has noticed a few changes with Luke in charge.

"I think the offense is a little different than what it's been in the past," Saban said. "Certainly make a lot of explosive plays. Lots of RPOs with all the runs. Very, very challenging offense to try to defend. ... Really good quarterback. Probably the best group of receivers collectively we've played against all year."

Alabama's performance last week was impressive. The Crimson Tide immediately jumped on then-unbeaten Vanderbilt and never let up. Alabama was clean on both sides of the ball. The Tide ran for 496 yards -- and that deep running game should come in handy against an Ole Miss defense that allows 184 yards per game on the ground.

Damien Harris leads the Alabama running backs with 309 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 8.1 yards per carry. Bo Scarbrough has 221 yards and three touchdowns. But the Tide's leading rusher is quarterback Jalen Hurts, with 360 yards on 45 attempts.

"The secondary, we've got to make sure we keep our eyes in the right spot because this quarterback, he can spin the ball," said Ole Miss defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff. "But at the same time, he can certainly beat you with his feet. I haven't seen a quarterback run as smooth as he runs in a long time."

Alabama's defense was bolstered last week by the return of linebackers Anfernee Jennings, Rashaan Evans and Dylan Moses from injury.

Still, with most things pointing toward a comfortable Alabama victory, the Tide carries the uncomfortable memories of the past three meetings.

"This will be a real challenging game for us in a lot of different ways," Saban said. "We'll try to do the best we can to get our players ready to play even better this week."

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