Mississippi's Nutt, Alabama's Saban familiar foes
Nick Saban and Houston Nutt have seen quite a bit of each other over the years. Only Saban has had much fun during the meetings.
The veteran Southeastern Conference coaches face each other for the 10th time when No. 2 Alabama travels to face Mississippi on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
''I feel he's one of the best coaches in the league in terms of how his teams play, the difficulties in preparing to play his teams and utilizing the personnel they have,'' Saban said. ''All the things in consideration from my standpoint, I have the utmost respect for Houston and the job he has done for a lot of years.''
But the coaching rivalry has lost some luster in recent years because it's become so one-sided. Saban has a 7-2 record against Nutt in a series that dates back to 2000 when Saban was at LSU and Nutt was at Arkansas. Nutt won two out of the first three in the series, but Saban has won six straight dating back to 2003.
Nutt's chances of turning the series around on Saturday are a huge longshot, and the gigantic gap between the two programs is indicative of the coaches' career paths.
Saban's been dominant since he took over at Alabama in 2007, winning a national championship in 2009. Nutt said this team might be Saban's best yet, with a Heisman-caliber running back in Trent Richardson and a physical defense that has future NFL players at nearly every position.
Richardson, a 5-foot-11, 224-pound junior, ranks first in the SEC with 11 rushing touchdowns and is second with 729 rushing yards. The Crimson Tide are giving up just seven points per game and opposing offenses are averaging just 191.3 total yards.
Nutt admits they're an impressive sight on film. He expects nothing less in person.
''This is a better team than the last few years because of their depth and what they do on defense,'' Nutt said. ''They haven't given up many explosive plays and plays over 20 yards. They do an excellent job of not letting you cross that last white line.''
Nutt has spent the past month answering more questions about job security that anything football-related. He took over the Ole Miss program in 2008 and after two good seasons the bottom has dropped out. He's lost 10 of 11 SEC games dating back to 2009.
But Nutt's critics were quieted last week when the stagnant Rebels offense awakened in a 38-28 road victory over Fresno State on Oct. 1.
Junior Randall Mackey was impressive in his first start at quarterback, completing 8 of 18 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Jeff Scott rushed for a career high 138 yards and two touchdowns.
The Rebels didn't have a game last weekend, giving them two weeks to prepare for the Crimson Tide. The extra time certainly helps, but beating Alabama won't happen because of a little added film study.
''We're looking at tomorrow's NFL when you're looking at their defense,'' Ole Miss offensive coordinator David Lee said.
Lee said Mackey's first start was encouraging, but the Crimson Tide were going to bring a much more complicated defensive package to the field.
''Randall Mackey's going to have to think,'' Lee said. ''He's got to know what he's doing with the football ... He's going to have to decipher in a hurry because they've got a great pass rush.''
It's the second straight week Alabama has had to face a team that's coming off a bye week.
The Crimson Tide didn't have much trouble against Vanderbilt last Saturday, winning 34-0 in Tuscaloosa. But just like Saban, Alabama's players have a healthy respect for what Nutt and Ole Miss might have ready thanks to the extra preparation.
''We're always ready to see if they're gonna come out with something different ...,'' Alabama linebacker Jerrell Harris said. ''You just have to be ready for anything.''
Notes: Saban said LB C.J. Mosley (elbow) practiced this week and RB Eddie Lacy also practiced some. Both are questionable for Saturday's game. ... Nutt said RB Brandon Bolden (ankle) is getting close to being 100 percent after fracturing his ankle in the first game of the season against BYU. Bolden has only rushed for 105 yards this season.
AP Sports Writer John Zenor contributed to this story.
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