Alabama is now 3-2 on the season. The Crimson Tide gets back into Southeastern Conference play Saturday when Bama goes to Oxford to take on the Ole Miss Rebels. The game will be regionally telecast by Jefferson Pilot with kickoff shortly after 11:30 a.m. CDT from Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Alabama is 2-1 in SEC games. Mississippi, 1-1 in league games, is 3-1 overall.
Alabama is coming off an easy 56-7 win over Texas-El Paso. In his regular Tuesday press briefing before Bama went on the practice field, Franchione said that preparation for UTEP was the best week of practices this year and that it was reflected in the performance. "We didn't let UTEP look as good as I think they probably are," he said. "It was our goal to improve. I think we did that. And I was very pleased with the way our guys responded after the tough loss (37-36 at South Carolina) and bounced back and played with great focus and determination."
Both Alabama and Ole Miss have three victories over what would be considered to be lightweight competition. Bama's wins are over Vanderbilt, Arkansas and UTEP, Mississippi's over Murray State, Kentucky and Arkansas State. The Tide losses are quite respectable, by three points to seventh-ranked UCLA and by one point to ninth-rated South Carolina. Ole Miss lost a 27-21 game to Auburn.
Franchione had good things to say about Alabama's offense, defense and kicking game.
The Crimson Tide, which was one of the nation's worst offensive teams last year, is third in the SEC and 19th in the nation in total offense at 433.6 yards per game. Bama is also third in the league in scoring (30.4 points per game). The Tide is leading the SEC and ranks 12th in the nation in rushing at 229.8 yards per game. The Bama offense will be going up against a Mississippi defense that ranks eighth in the SEC in scoring defense and fifth in total defense. Although the Rebels are first in the SEC in pass defense, that's probably partly because Ole Miss is 10th in the league in rushing defense.
Franchione said he thought Alabama's offense had improved because of the players becoming familiar with the offense, because quarterback Tyler Watts has made vast improvement, and because of improvement in the offensive line. He added that the coaches have learned the strengths of various players. "We don't have to depend on any one or two offensive players," Franchione said. "We're fairly balanced in run and pass (Alabama is averaging 229.8 yards rushing, 203.8 yards passing). Right now people have to cover a lot of bases to defend us."
He said, "I think our defense is making progress. We've played some good offensive teams. We've given up some yards, but we haven't given up many points except to South Carolina." Bama is fourth in the league in total defense, allowing 318.6 yards per game, and fourth in scoring defense, allowing 16.6 points per game. Ole Miss is the SEC's number two scoring team at 36.8 points per game and is fourth in total offense, averaging 431.5 yards per game.
Franchione also had good things to say about place-kicker Neal Thomas ("He's about as steady and consistent as any kicker that I've been around. He's hitting the ball good. He's got a great demeanor.. He's solid.") and said that Lane Bearden is punting well, but needs to be less erratic on kickoffs. The coach said, "Our kicking game has been relatively solid, which is a bonus."
Almost all discussion of Mississippi starts with quarterback Eli Manning, and Franchione started there, too. He said the Rebels have "probably one of the rising stars at quarterback in the nation in Eli Manning. He's going into his third year and you can tell he comes from a football family and he 's got a great knowledge of the game. He doesn't make very many bad plays. He's a smart, savvy quarterback."
He said Ole Miss' offensive line has done a good job of protecting Manning and that the receivers and backs have been good. He also noted that Ole Miss has good balance in running and passing.
Defensively, he noted that the Rebels are "quick, athletic, and good hitters. They have given up some rushing yards, but they are solid in a lot of ways."
He also complimented Mississippi's return game on kicks and said the Rebels' were well-coached in the kicking game.
Franchione said, "We have two big games left in this month and then we get a chance to re-group a little bit with an open week. This is a big game. Anytime you can go on the road and get a win in this conference it means a lot, and hopefully we'll be able to do that. We want to continue to get better. We took a step last week and this is step two. I don't think you're going to measure improvement with big yardage number necessarily but hopefully we'll put the film on on Sunday and feel like we're getting better as a football team. And hopefully that will lead to success on the scoreboard, too."