In fact, to read some Internet sites or listen to talk radio, one might think that Alabama had never won a football game against these other teams, because of their incessant discussion of what in truth are aberrations.
Last year Alabama lost two football games. The first was to Ole Miss in Oxford by 23-17. The Crimson Tide loathes any loss, but as it turned out the setback to the Rebels didn’t cost anything. Bama won its 24th Southeastern Conference championship and was the nation’s top-ranked team and top seed going into the inaugural College Football Playoff.
In the Sugar Bowl, the semifinals of the CFB, Alabama had a loss that really did hurt. Bama fell to eventual national champion Ohio State by a touchdown, 42-35.
In both games, the Crimson Tide was passing into the end zone in the final seconds with a chance for victory.
This week Alabama, ranked second in the nation, is host to 11th-ranked Ole Miss in what is the biggest game of the week in college football. While Bama was able to overcome a loss to the Rebels last year, that is dangerous territory this early in the season. ESPN will televise the game from Bryant-Denny Stadium beginning at 8:15 p.m. CDT Saturday.
And so this week the loss to Ole Miss is being remembered more than the loss to Ohio State in reflection on the 2014 season. Particularly remembered is Alabama’s last chance at victory, a pass from quarterback Blake Sims intended for tight end O.J. Howard near the back of the end zone. Howard seemed open, the pass was perfect, but Mississippi cornerback Sanquez Golson came across the field, unseen by Howard, and made a leaping interception.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, “I remember it well, and I've seen it this week again. We had the ball on the 17-yard line. There was 40 seconds to go in the game, something like that. We took a shot. The guys was open early, we kind of threw it late. The corner (Senquez Golson) did a great job of recovering and overlapping and made a great play. It's one we wish we had back, and I'm sure Blake wishes he had it back. When you call plays and they don't work, you wish you could have it back. That's always the case. We had a chance on the play; we just didn't execute like we needed to and they made a great play on it.”
Howard was asked if the play haunted him at all.
“It’s something that I’ve kind of grown to forget about,” said the junior tight end. “At first, it was something that I had a hard time letting go, but I don’t really worry about it much. I’m a much improved player since that play, so it’s nothing that really affects me anymore.
“I can’t let that [dictate] how I’m going to play this year because that was last year. So I had to move on from it. But I still remember what happened.”
Howard thinks the play – as much as it hurt – may have been a turning point for him. “That play was probably one of the biggest that’s ever happened to me in my career, “ he said. “It was a big, important plays in a good way. It allowed me to become a better player of the game and to learn how to shake things off and move on to the next play.”
Howard isn’t making more of this year’s game because of last year’s result. He said, “It ended bad for us, of course, but it’s not really about revenge or anything like that. We’re going out there with a chip on our shoulder. We know they beat us last year. We’re not going to forget about that. But it’s just going to come down to what we’re going to do, how we execute the plays, and we’ll get the W.”
Howard said, “The intensity is very high at practice. Like I said, we haven’t forgotten that they beat us last year, so we’re not going to put that to the side. The intensity is really high and we’re excited to get out there and play.”
It had been expected that Howard would be more of a factor in this year’s Alabama offense. Playing primarily as an H-back (something like a hybrid fullback-tight end), Howard has seven receptions for 105 yards in the Tide’s first two games.