The No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide rolls into Oxford, Mississippi this Saturday to face No. 19 Ole Miss, as it looks to put an end to its two game losing streak against the Rebels.
It’s a matchup between two of the SEC’s best, as both teams have their sites set on Atlanta, and a College Football Playoff bid.
The Crimson Tide has a commanding 47-11-2 series lead over the Rebels, but by going off the last two games, you’d think these two rivals played competitively every year when they meet on the gridiron.
The last time the Tide played inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, a sea of students wearing blue and red flooded the field as the Rebels knocked off then No. 1 Alabama 23-17, for its first ever win against a top ranked team.
With a win Saturday afternoon, the Rebels will become just to third team ever to defeat a Nick Saban coached team three years in a row.
Alabama is coming off a 38-10 drubbing of Western Kentucky, and has looked like the most complete team in the country through the first two weeks of the season.
While the Rebels made up for their season opening loss against Florida State by cruising by Wofford last week 38-13, recording their first win of the 2016 season.
For the Tide to get a win on Saturday, it will rely on the play of its always dominate defense, and the arm of its true freshman quarterback, Jalen Hurts. In just two games, while splitting snaps with Blake Barnett, Hurts has accounted for over 400 pass yards and six total touchdowns.
But this will be Hurts’ first true SEC road test, and the Ole Miss fans will have the newly renovated stadium rocking Saturday afternoon, trying to get the young freshman to make mistakes.
So what do you do to make your inexperienced signal caller gain some confidence in a chaotic environment? Run the ball. But last week, the Tide struggled in that department: averaging just 3.2 yards a carry on the ground. Expect the Rebels to try and mimic the play of the Hilltoppers and load the box to take away the Alabama run game.
On the opposite sideline, Hugh Freeze and Co. will look to use its fast paced, high powered offense, led by Chad Kelly, to beat the well-trained Tide defense. Kelly already has an SEC high seven pass touchdowns and has a PER of 155.7.
Against the Seminoles in week one, the Rebels showed just how good they can be in the first half, but also showed how quickly things can go south when the execution isn’t there.
Last season, Kelly threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns against this Tide defense. But the most important stat was that the Rebels didn’t turn the ball over. If the Rebels want to beat the Tide for the third straight year, Kelly needs to put up similar, if not better, numbers.
Emotion will play a huge role in this game.
The revenge-bent Crimson Tide want nothing more than to return back to Oxford and make up for the embarrassing losses the last two seasons.
While the Rebels once again head into the game as 11 point underdogs, and are out to prove the last two years have not been a fluke.
This will be a dog fight from start to finish, and Saban acknowledged just how tough a win is going to be to earn.
“Ole Miss, it’s a great challenge for us early in the season against a very, very good team,” Saban said in Monday’s press conference. “Playing on the road early has its own challenges, but this is a team that has been a really prolific offensive football team.”
Three hours east in Oxford during a Monday morning press conference, coach Freeze had some similar praise for the Crimson Tide.
“They seem faster,” Freeze said.“They are going to be difficult to create any drives on. It’s just another typical Alabama team that is going to compete for the SEC championship and probably the national championship.”
Kickoff is set for 3:30 eastern time, and will be televised on CBS.