CFB: No. 1 Alabama at No. 19 Ole Miss preview
Alabama fans are hoping the third time is the charm as the Crimson Tide travel to Ole Miss on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. CBS will telecast the SEC opener for both teams.
The 19th-ranked Rebels have beaten the top-ranked Tide in back-to-back seasons, including a 43-37 victory last year in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Rebels won 23-17 in 2014, the last time the two teams played in Oxford, Miss.
Last year, Alabama went from the loss at home to go on to win the national title. In 2014, the Tide didn't lose again until the semifinal setback to Ohio State in the playoffs.
"I think it is a combination of the confidence that has been set through playing them the four years we have been here," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said, "And playing them early is advantageous."
Tide coach Nick Saban is hoping that his players have learned from the mistakes that have cost his team the early season setback in each of the last two years. Alabama turned the ball over five times in last year's matchup with the Rebels.
Heading into this one, Alabama is looking to clean up some of its issues with penalties. The Tide committed 12 penalties in last weekend's win over Western Kentucky with the majority of those coming on the offense.
"I think the focus for us needs to be on better execution as a team," said Saban, who has never lost three years in a row to the same team in his 10-year stint at Alabama. "I talked about this after the game and after viewing the film.
"When we have issues, when we give up plays on defense, when we have negative plays on offense, it really comes from the fact that our fundamental execution is not really what it needs to be. I think that we have to spend the time in practice to get the fundamental execution that we need.
"I think this helps everyone play better, it benefits everybody, and I think it benefits the unit that you play on. Playing in the SEC, playing against better teams, playing on the road -- all these things are definitely things we need to emphasize and improve on."
Freshman Jalen Hurts is expected to get the start at quarterback for the Tide and is backed up by redshirt freshman Blake Barnett. Barnett started the opener against USC while Hurts started against Western Kentucky.
"I know you all are going to ask me about the quarterbacks," Saban said at his weekly media session previewing the game, "but we are going to continue to work with both of the quarterbacks. We have to try to get them better."
While Alabama comes into the game with two wins in two outings, the Rebels have split their first two games, bouncing back from an opening loss to Florida State to coast past FCS-foe Wofford last week.
The Rebels are looking to get more out of their running game against the Tide than they did against the Seminoles, when they managed to rush for only 67 yards. Freeze notes that won't be easy.
He said Alabama's consistently stout defensive front seven may be faster than any Saban's had, which will challenge an Ole Miss offense that struggled in the second half against Florida State and averaged less than three yards a carry against the Seminoles. The Crimson Tide's defense has also scored more touchdowns (two) than it has allowed (one).
"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."
Flipping to the other side, Ole Miss' defense will see an offense that still leans on a running game in averaging 183 rushing yards per game. The emergence of Hurts at quarterback, however, has given teams more to worry about with his legs and a strong arm to stretch defenses.