Alabama and Ole Miss open Southeastern Conference play in Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday, and it’s fair to say that both teams expect the opposition to be tougher this week than it has been in the first two weeks of the season. The Crimson Tide also is 2-0 and ranked second in the nation. The Rebels are ranked 11th in the Coaches Poll and 15th by the Associated Press.
In what has already been a season of surprises, one of those is that Mississippi defeated Tennessee-Martin by 76-3 amd Fresno State by 73-21. Ole Miss is the first SEC team ever to score 73 points or more in back-to-back games and the first team from any conference since Houston in 1968. The Rebels had over 600 yards of offense in both games.
The unsurprising result is at this early juncture, Ole Miss is leading the nation in scoring at 74 1/2 points per game. Interestingly, last year the Rebels led the nation in scoring defense, allowing 16 points per game.
One thing that is not a surprise in this surprising season is that Alabama Coach Nick Saban is quite complimentary of the Rebels.
“Ole Miss certainly has an outstanding team,” Saban said. “They've got a lot of experience returning, like 18 starters or whatever. Obviously when you score over 74 points a game, you've got a pretty dynamic offense in a lot of ways. They've got a lot of good players. They've got a great scheme. They do a really good job of executing. They play fast, and they're leading the nation in a lot of categories when it comes to offense. I think Chad Kelly (junior quarterback transfer from East Mississippi Community College) has done a really good job for them. They've got a really good runner in No. 6 (Jaylen Walton). They've got really good receivers. Laquon Treadwell is probably as good as anybody in the country; a really good receiving corps.
“Their defense, they've got seven starters back and one of the best defenses in the SEC. Giving up 12 points a game so far this year. They're one of the best defensive teams in our conference as well.
“This is a very, very good all around team. It’s certainly going to be a challenging game for us, but we're looking forward to playing in the SEC, playing in our conference.”
The good news? Saban said, “If you're a great competitor you love to play in games like this. This is certainly going to offer as many challenges as anyone could hope for as a competitor.”
As for Saturday’s win over Middle Tennessee, Saban said, “It’s always good to win. We did some good things in the game but we were a little inconsistent in the way we played on both sides of the ball. So we have a lot of things to work on, a lot of things to improve. I think the key thing that the players and everybody needs to understand is playing a team like we're playing this week, it's going to be necessary for us to play better in this game, execute better, be more consistent, have better fundamental execution.
“I think the best way to do that is to focus on preparation each day this week. What do you do on Monday? What do you do on Tuesday? What do you do on Wednesday? What do you do on Thursday? And really get it down and carry it into the game with good focus.”
Saban said that the Tide came out of Saturday’s game in good shape from an injury standpoint. A few players may be limited and protected from contact early in the week, but Saban said he didn’t expect anyone would miss the game because of injury.