No. 21 Ole Miss hasn’t had the greatest track record against No. 1 Alabama throughout the years, but Saturday the Rebels (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) are looking to take down the Crimson Tide (3-0) in Tuscaloosa.
The meeting is the 61st of the series with Alabama leading the series 46-9-2. Despite this, head coach Hugh Freeze is excited to bring his team into Bryant-Denny Stadium and take a shot at Alabama.
“It doesn’t get any more difficult than to go over to Alabama and play on a Saturday night,” Freeze said. “For several years now, Alabama has been the standard to which you measure yourself in this conference. That hasn’t changed. It’s another opportunity for us to measure ourselves and see where we are.
“I’m OK with the results as long as our best effort is put forth. I expect our kids to do that. They’re excited about the opportunity.”
The Rebels are coming off a bye week, while the Crimson Tide took down Colorado State 31-6 last week. The bye could prove to be a critical asset for Ole Miss, after having some players knocked out by injury earlier in the season. A few big names will be looking to return this weekend including sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and junior wide receiver Vince Sanders. Nkemdiche is getting over a meniscus injury, and Sanders is returning to action after breaking his collarbone.
“Vince will play,” Freeze said. “We’ll incorporate him in just like we would anybody. He’ll be ready to go.”
Freeze didn’t seem as confident in the return of Nkemdiche.
“I will not play him if I don’t feel like he’s ready,” Freeze said. “It’s a long season. We’re going to need all of the capable bodies to make it through. If he’s ready to go, certainly we’ll play him.”
Offensively, the Rebels will be led by junior quarterback Bo Wallace. Through three games Wallace has yet to throw an interception and has accounted for 648 yards in the air with four touchdowns. Senior running back Jeff Scott continues to carry the load in the backfield with 330 rushing yards and two touchdowns. In the receiving game, freshman tight end Evan Engram leads the way with 11 catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns, and junior Donte Moncrief trails Engram by just two yards.
Although the Rebels have played well offensively, they will be facing a stingy Alabama defense, which is arguably the best in the conference.
“They’re going to have new wrinkles every game,” Freeze said. “They’re going to switch in between their 3-4 stuff and 4-2-5 stuff. They’ll give you every look that you can imagine. They’re very physical up front.
“That’s the thing that stands out after the game against (Texas) A&M. You don’t put on the film and just see a consistent drive with a great play or a phenomenal one-on-one play. Those make you uncomfortable because you don’t like to depend on something like that to have a consistent drive. They’re just so good. They fit the proper gaps. They don’t blow coverages. They just do it the right way.”
If the Rebels were to pull out a win this weekend, Freeze believes it will say something about the program he and his staff are trying to build in their second year in Oxford.
“It would mean that we’re definitely ahead of schedule in our program, to go there and win,” Freeze said.
“What should motivate us, and I think will, is an opportunity to go stand in front of the measuring stick right now and prove that you deserve to be there. That’s what we’ll focus on. If it does go our way, it would certainly be a huge boost to our program and move us a few steps forward quicker than anybody thought, including myself.”
The Rebels and Crimson Tide will kick off in Tuscaloosa at 5:30 p.m. and the game will be available on ESPN.
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