Hobbled Mississippi tries to compete with No. 1 Alabama

Alabama head coach Nick Saban congratulates wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (4) after Jeudy scored a touchdown against Vanderbilt in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Mississippi has given mighty Alabama more trouble than any other Southeastern Conference program over the past few seasons.

Given recent events, it appears unlikely that trend will continue.

Ole Miss (2-1, 0-0 Southeastern Conference) will be about a four-touchdown underdog when it travels to face No. 1 Alabama (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday despite beating the Tide in two of the past three seasons. Since 2014, Alabama is 1-2 against Ole Miss and 25-0 against the rest of the league.

But things have changed around Oxford. The program has been seriously damaged because of an ongoing NCAA infractions case and the resignation of coach Hugh Freeze over the summer.

Ole Miss won its first two games of the season before an ugly 27-16 road loss to California on Sept. 16. The Rebels were off last week, giving them an extra week to prepare for the Tide.

The last time Ole Miss went to Tuscaloosa in 2015, it left with a thrilling 43-37 win . Ole Miss coach Matt Luke hopes some of the older players can draw on that experience.

”It helps when you’ve got guys who have been there and played in that environment,” Luke said. ”The thing about it is, two years ago doesn’t mean anything for this year. This team is the one that’s got to go to Tuscaloosa.”

And this Ole Miss team has some problems.

The offense was very good in the first two wins, but the Rebels didn’t score a point in the second half of the loss to California. Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson still leads the league with 1,281 yards passing and he’ll almost certainly have to produce some huge numbers for the Rebels to have a chance on Saturday.

”We’ve got to play fast, try to keep them out of their comfort zone,” Luke said. ”We have very simple answers for him in the pass game. You can’t sit back there and hold it. They’ve got good pass rushers and good coverage guys.

The Rebels also hope leading receiver A.J. Brown will be able to play against the Tide. He sprained his left knee early in the California game and didn’t return.

The Ole Miss defense has also had some rough moments this season, though the group played decently against the Golden Bears. The Rebels will try to slow down an Alabama offense that looked dominant in a 59-0 win over Vanderbilt last week.

”They’re running for over 300 yards per game, and the most impressive thing is they haven’t turned the ball over yet,” Luke said. ”That’s very, very impressive. They have a really good quarterback and really good backs.”

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