September 22, 2015

(AP) - Alabama caught fire after last season's loss to Mississippi, winning out until the College Football Playoffs.

The 12th-ranked Crimson Tide's challenge now is to do it again, beginning Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe.

There's a big difference in coach Nick Saban's mind from his team's past two meetings with Ole Miss, one a 23-17 defeat and the other Saturday night's 43-37 shootout.

This time Alabama fell to the now third-ranked Rebels after a mistake-filled performance that included one wild Ole Miss touchdown off a deflected pass.

''We had almost fanatic energy but we didn't channel it in the right direction,'' Saban said on Monday. ''We kept coming back in the game, but we also shot ourselves in the foot so many times it made it difficult to overcome.

''Last year we got ahead in the game and kind of got sort of relief syndrome or something where they got momentum in the game and we could never get it back. That never really happened. We just came up short this time.''

Alabama (2-1, 0-1 SEC) did fight back, salvaging two chances to score a go-ahead touchdown in the final three minutes after trailing by 19 points in the fourth quarter.

The Tide, who won national titles after losing SEC West games in both 2011 and 2012, had five turnovers that the Rebels turned into 24 points. It was, as Saban said, ''too many self-inflicted wounds to overcome.''

The game emphasized the unsettled quarterback situation, or perhaps resolved it, at least for now. Cooper Bateman started for the first time and then Jake Coker led the aborted comeback.

Saban said he expects Coker to start against Louisiana-Monroe, ahead of a visit to No. 7 Georgia.

Coker threw three touchdown passes but was also intercepted twice, including once in the final minutes on a deep throw that went right to cornerback Tony Bridges. Coker completed just 21 of 44 passes but also had 58 rushing yards.

''Jake came into the game and played with some passion and showed great leadership and energy when he played,'' Saban said.

Alabama lost wide receiver Robert Foster during the game to a shoulder injury that required surgery. Saban didn't give a timetable for his return.

The Tide's silver lining from the latest Ole Miss loss might be showing the fortitude to bounce-back after Quincy Adeboyejo took a deflected pass 66 yards for a touchdown - or for Chad Kelly's two long fourth-quarter throwing passes.

Left tackle Cam Robinson was still shaking his head over the deflected touchdown two days later.

''I have never seen anything like that,'' Robinson said. ''I mean, honestly, it's luck, just to be honest. No way in the world you plan that, but it's kind of how it goes sometimes.''

Alabama's road doesn't get any easier. Games remain with No. 8 LSU and at No. 14 Texas A&M plus three teams receiving votes in the Top 25.

It took a couple of games for Alabama to get it going after Ole Miss last season, starting with a 14-13 win over Arkansas. Saban said that's when the team started loosening up and having fun.

Energy level doesn't seem to be Alabama's problem now. Robinson thinks there's some overreaction when the Tide loses a game.

''We're Alabama so we know we can't lose too often,'' Robinson said. ''We lose one game, the sky's falling because that's kind of the standard we've set for ourselves. I think we just need to come back with a positive attitude and just look to move forward. Don't dwell on this loss.''

Louisiana-Monroe (1-1) is hoping its second game against an SEC opponent this year goes better than the first. The Warhawks have been idle since a 47-0 rout of FCS foe Nicholls State on Sept. 12, a bounce-back victory after a 51-14 defeat at Georgia the previous weekend.

Garrett Smith threw three touchdown passes in a 30-point second quarter and finished with 370 passing yards in just over a half of play as Louisiana-Monroe rolled up 593 total yards. The defense, which was gashed by the Bulldogs for 243 rushing yards, limited the Colonels to 260 overall.

"We need to get better every week," coach Todd Berry said. "The wins and losses will take care of itself if the standard performance is on a high level each and every week. So I challenged them with it. I think they answered that."

Smith's favorite target is Rashon Ceaser, who already has 23 receptions for 250 yards and two touchdowns after a 10-catch, 97-yard effort against the Colonels. The senior is rapidly moving up the Warhawks all-time receiving lists and enters this game fourth in yards (2,348), and with six catches, will match Tavarese Mays (191) for third.

The Warhawks are 1-27 all-time against ranked teams, beating then-No. 8 Arkansas 34-31 in overtime in 2012. They also posted a 21-14 victory in the last meeting between the teams in 2007 at Alabama.

You May Like