Tide Turn

So long, bye week. For Ole Miss, the gauntlet is here.

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No. 21 Ole Miss returns to action against top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. CT. The Rebels are 3-0 for the first time since 1989, and are riding high following a blowout, 44-23 win at Texas two weeks ago.

The Rebels' meeting with the Crimson Tide is the first in a four-game swing that could very well define their season. A road trip to Auburn follows Alabama. Ole Miss then returns home to face SEC West contenders Texas A&M and LSU in back-to-back weeks.

"That's probably the toughest stretch anyone in the country will play this year," head coach Hugh Freeze said last week.

It all starts with the Crimson Tide, winners of three of the last four national titles, and the first ranked opponent the Rebels will encounter on the still-young season.

Alabama easily handled Colorado State, 31-6, over the weekend, running its record to 3-0. The Crimson Tide hold a 24-1 advantage on Ole Miss in games played in Tuscaloosa, and the Rebels are winless, 0-9, when playing the top team in the nation.

The backbone for Alabama in its stretch of championship dominance has been its stingy defense, which has routinely ranked among the nation's leaders.

Hugh Freeze
Associated Press

However, the Crimson Tide is ninth in the SEC in total defense after four weeks of play, chiefly due to the 42 points and 628 total yards of offense surrendered in a win against Texas A&M two weeks ago.

Ole Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner doesn't care what the stats say. When reviewing film, he sees a typical Alabama defense.

"They've tweaked it, but it's their same basic scheme, their same basic philosophy," he said. "They're a typical Alabama defense, a typical SEC defense. They're very physical, fast. The difference is they're so well-coached, you just don't find openings. These guys … they have an answer for everything."

Offensively, Alabama is averaging 38.3 points per game, good for fifth in the conference, despite ranking 13th out of 14 teams in the SEC in total offense.

"I see the same thing I always see when I watch Alabama - great running backs, a quarterback who makes very few mistakes, tight ends who can run, very good wideouts, the whole package," Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said.

"With (Alabama quarterback) A.J. McCarron being a senior, they seem to trust him more to go downfield more. As I said, they have good receivers, so they feel comfortable taking some shots. I know this: they were very impressive against Texas A&M on offense. Very impressive."

Saturday will be the 61st meeting between Ole Miss and Alabama. The Crimson Tide hold a 46-9-2 series lead. The Rebels' last win over the Tide was in 2003. Ole Miss is looking to start 4-0 for the first time since 1970.

"They're good," Freeze said of Alabama. "Real good, just like they always are. They're the gold standard of our conference right now. You just don't find many weaknesses. They've got a lot of depth. Big, strong, fast. I think their offense is a little more explosive. We've got a tall task."

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