Alabama: The Matchups

Ole Miss has had two weeks to get ready for Alabama. Alabama has had six days to absorb, deal with, and try to get rid of a feeling it hadn't had since the end of the 2008 season.

The Rebels enter Saturday night's contest in Tuscaloosa 3-2 and with back to back wins against Fresno State and Kentucky. In the Southeastern Conference they are 1-1, but this is the first league road game of the season for Ole Miss.

For Alabama, a 35-21 road loss to South Carolina put an end to its No. 1 ranking and a 19-game win streak that started after a loss to Utah in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 2009.

There seems to be a lot of confidence coming from the Ole Miss camp. Some of it is two wins in a row. Some of it is they're healthier. Some of it is that they know the Crimson Tide isn't unbeatable.

Of course, Alabama will be out to try to regain its top billing and get back on track for a second consecutive national title. If Coach Nick Saban can achieve victory and rack up some style points in the process, he will.

Offensively, Ole Miss is tops among all SEC teams. Admittedly its 37.2 points per contest have come against a slate of defenses from Jacksonville State, Tulane, Vanderbilt, and the aforementioned teams from Fresno State and Kentucky.

Greg McElroy

Still the Rebels, led by a becoming-more-comfortable Jeremiah Masoli, a strong stable of running backs, and receivers that have begun to make more things happen, should be able to score some points against Alabama. The Ole Miss offensive line has come a long way since the start of the season, the result of some tweaks by coaches and some replacements due to injury.

Defensively the Rebels still have yet to play a 60-minute game. Some of it is inexperience in some areas, some of it is injury, and some of it is sheer surprise. This unit was supposed to lead the way for the Rebels. Had it done so, Ole Miss might very well be 5-0, as some had predicted and all Rebel fans hoped.

Ole Miss offense in brief: The Rebel running game has improved so much since the season began that in the 42-35 win against Kentucky, the Rebels threw the football only 12 times. Brandon Bolden seemed to decide a couple of games ago to put the Rebel running game on his back, and he's become quite a productive runner for Ole Miss. He's already more than halfway to a thousand yards (508), but the sledding will get tougher with the teams dead ahead. Markeith Summers and Melvin Harris will need big nights if Ole Miss is to have a shot. The improving offensive line will have to be better than at any point so far.

Ole Miss defense in brief: The Rebel defenders seemed to come into their own against Kentucky, causing and claiming turnovers. But with a 42-20 lead, Ole Miss went back to its old ways, and the script looked the same. Kentucky scored the game's last two touchdowns and were poised for the onsides kick they weren't able to recover. Alabama only ran the football 17 times with its two all-star running backs. However Greg McElroy was a stellar 27 for 34 through the air for 315 yards and two touchdowns.

Ole Miss wins if...Alabama isn't too mad. Realistically the Tide will be. With the Rebel offense capable, it probably all boils down to the Ole Miss defense. Can it be the best it's been so far this season, even with some players who are inexperienced on the field due to injuries.

Mark Barron

Alabama wins if...the Crimson Tide plays like it has most of the past 20 games. Alabama hasn't been used to losing. No doubt Saban will have them ready to roll. If Ole Miss can't force some turnovers and get some pressure on McElroy, the Tide will start a new win streak.

Alabama offensive player to watch: Mark Ingram. Who wouldn't point to a Heisman Trophy winner, not candidate, as the offensive player to watch? Last week against the Gamecocks, he touched the football 11 times, gained 41 yards, and didn't score. The Rebels can hope for a repeat, but limiting him to those numbers two straight weeks will be difficult.

Alabama defensive player to watch: Junior safety Mark Barron has led the Tide on defense with 40 tackles. Blessed with good size and speed, he was the lone returning starter off last season's national championship secondary. At 6-foot-2, 210-pounds, Barron is a difference maker for the Crimson Tide defense.

Noteworthy: Ole Miss has won just once before in Tuscaloosa in football. That was back in 1988 on Homecoming Day for Alabama. It was also Dedication Day for the Paul "Bear" Bryant Museum. Coach Billy Brewer's Rebels beat Coach Bill Curry's Crimson Tide 22-12 that fall day 22 years ago.

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