No. 1 Alabama still looking to fix its Ole Miss problem

FILE - In this Sept. 2, 2017, file photo, Mississippi head coach Matt Luke leads the team onto the field for the game against South Alabama at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss.  A week after No. 1 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) crushed an undefeated Vanderbilt team, Ole Miss comes to town having scored 109 points against the Crimson Tide over the past three years, by far the most of any opponent. (Bruce Newman/The Oxford Eagle via AP, File)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Alabama snapped a two-game losing streak to Mississippi last season with a big comeback victory.

Yet listening to the Crimson Tide players and coach Nick Saban talk this week about Saturday night’s game against the Rebels, it sounded a little like they still do not believe they totally fixed this Ole Miss problem.

”I think the ultimate disrespect sometimes is when someone quietly thinks they’ve got your number,” Saban said.

A week after No. 1 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) crushed what it perceived as an uppity undefeated Vanderbilt team, Ole Miss comes to town having scored 109 points against the Crimson Tide over the past three years – by far the most of any opponent. The Rebels’ 2015 victory at Alabama is the Tide’s last loss at home and only setback in Bryant-Denny Stadium in its last 29 games.

”Anytime you lose a game around here, it sticks for a while,” running back Damien Harris said.

When the Rebels upset the third-ranked Tide 23-17 in Oxford, Mississippi, in front of pop star Katy Perry, it was big news. The next season Ole Miss made it two straight, beating No. 2 Alabama 43-37 in Tuscaloosa. That loss, coming off of two straight seasons without a national championship for the Tide had at least a few folks wondering whether the dynasty was dead. That was hyperbole, and the truth was most reasonable people were not throwing dirt on the Tide after that loss, but no doubt the air of invincibility around Alabama had thinned. The Tide promptly took that perceived slight and used it to fuel another national championship run.

Last season, the Tide restored some order in the rivalry with a victory, but it was far from easy. Ole Miss jumped out to a 24-3 before Alabama came roaring back, and then finally hung on for a 48-43 victory. Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly passed for 421 yards and three touchdowns.

This season Ole Miss (2-1) comes in off an off week, having lost its last game at California. The Rebels are bowl-banned and being led by an interim coach. Matt Luke replaced Hugh Freeze, who was fired in July for inappropriate conduct. The buzz around Ole Miss football is gone as the school awaits its punishment for NCAA violations committed under Freeze.

The Rebels come into this match up against Alabama as a four-touchdown underdog.

Alabama is coming off one of the most dominant performances of the Saban era, a 59-0 victory against Vanderbilt in which the Tide had as many first downs (38) as the Commodores had offensive plays (38).

Saban talked earlier this week about how he stressed to his players the importance of not just winning a game, but defeating the opponent.

”We want to make you say I quit,” linebacker Anfernee Jennings said.

Things to know about 65th meeting overall between the Rebels and Tide.

PASSING PATTERSON: This Ole Miss team does something in common with the last one the won in Tuscaloosa: a talented quarterback. Shea Patterson has already had two 400-yard passing games. ”Well, first of all, the guy has great arm talent,” Saban said. ”He’s very instinctive. He’s a very good athlete. He can scramble and extend plays, and they’ve made a lot of big plays on that part of it.”

RUNNING MEN: Alabama for 496 yards against Vanderbilt and held the ball for 42:55 minutes. The Tide would probably like to repeat that against the Rebels, leaving Patterson and a talented group of receivers on the sideline. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is the Alabama’s leading rusher with 360 yards, and three talented tailbacks (Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Najee Harris) have combined for 486 yards.

”We have to limit their direct runs, and we have to try to make them bounce the ball to where they can’t attack us straight downhill,” Luke said. The Rebels rank 11th in the SEC in rushing defense at 4.56 yards per carry.

INJURIES: Alabama got back linebackers Jennings and Rashaan Evans last week, helping boost the Tide’s pass rush. Luke said center Sean Rawlings (ankle) is a game-time decision, but receiver A.J. Brown (knee) is likely good to go. Brown leads the SEC with 389 yards receiving.

Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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