Stemming the Tide

The magnitude is undeniable. When No. 3 Alabama rolls into Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for a 2:30 p.m. showdown with Ole Miss today, a Rebel squad in search of national relevance awaits. Read about it inside.

The saying is trite, but suitable. Though the next game on the schedule is usually referred to as the biggest in coaches' speak, none so far has carried more weight for Ole Miss than a matchup with No. 3 Alabama today at 2:30 p.m.

Having laid an egg in Columbia against South Carolina two games prior, the Rebels are in dire need of some national exposure. The loss did nothing but fuel the fire of Ole Miss' many detractors, with the team seemingly disregarded as a title contender in the early weeks of October.

But with a win over the new media darling in the Crimson Tide, Ole Miss can end all that talk.

"This is what makes this league so good, because of these kinds of games," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said. "It's a tremendous league. Every Saturday until the end of the year, there will be a lot of things happening. That's why it goes back to one game at a time, as cliché as it sounds. It's true. Let's go do our best this week.

"It's very hard for any team to go undefeated in our league. It's really difficult to do that. So, it's just one game at a time and it starts this week."

Key in topping such a formidable opponent will be the play of the Rebel offense, which has yet to field any form of consistency through four games.

While the unit is averaging 39.0 points per outing over its last eight games, Ole Miss has totaled a mere 33 combined in its last two contests against the Gamecocks and Vanderbilt.

Further, the loss in South Carolina snapped a school-record streak of four straight games with 45 or more points.

"We've just got to be physical," senior wide receiver Dexter McCluster said. "Their defense is very big and they try to intimidate you. They try to take you out of your game. But if we play hard-nosed football and come out and do what Coach Nutt wants us to do, we'll be alright.

"We have to put it all together. Against Vanderbilt, we had a great first half. Now we have to put two good halves together and play a complete game. Once we do that, we'll show we're a great team."

After setting the world on fire in the team's six-game winning streak to end last season, junior quarterback Jevan Snead has certainly endured a slow start in 2009's early stages.

Snead has completed only 51 percent of his passes on the year, while notching nine touchdowns to five interceptions. Though showing marked improvement in the offense's sizzling first half facing the Commodores, Snead finished with three interceptions on a career-high 34 passing attempts.

"We've just got to come out and execute," Snead said. "I can't turn the ball over like I did (against Vanderbilt). Like I said, that's solely on my back and I know exactly what I need to do to get better. We just have to come out and execute."

Defensively, the Rebels will look to slow a powerful Tide rushing attack, as Alabama ranks third in the conference in rushing offense.

Paced by sophomore Mark Ingram, who has logged 487 yards and six touchdowns, the Crimson Tide average 228.2 yards per game on the ground. But it doesn't end there, with the team offering another pair of talented runners in Trent Richardson and Roy Upchurch.

"On offense, they don't make mistakes," Nutt said. "They execute, take care of the ball and wear you down. Those backs, (Mark) Ingram, (Trent) Richardson and (Roy) Upchurch, are excellent. They'll beat you up or outrun you."

Although inexperienced entering the season, junior Greg McElroy is completing 65.5 percent of his passes for 1,086 yards and nine touchdowns in his first five games as Alabama's starting quarterback.

Even better, after tossing his lone interception in the first half of the team's season opener against No. 7 Virginia Tech, McElroy has completed 73-of-101 passes for a 72.3 completion average.

"We can still force him to make poor decisions because he's inexperienced," said junior linebacker Allen Walker. "They have a few guys they've had to replace on the offensive line. But they're getting better with each game and play sound football. We just have to tackle and know where our help is. We've got to play our game. We've got to force some mistakes."

As with any game, playing sound, fundamental football is the desired goal to gain victory on any given Saturday.

But against such a daunting opponent as Alabama, Ole Miss must limit turnovers and keep with its tendency of stingy defense if hopes of mounting an upset in Oxford are to be realized.

"It's no secret; this game is about us manning up," junior defensive end Kentrell Lockett said. "This game won't be for boys. It will be last-man-standing stuff. As Coach Nutt says, buckle both chinstraps."

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