Alabama-Ole Miss has flying shoes, big finishes
TUSCALOOSA – Unforgettable memories are forged on Southeastern Conference football fields. Big wins. Fantastic finishes.
Even flying footwear. That’s the first thing that pops up in the mind of Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson when he recalls last year’s meeting with Mississippi.
“Walking off the field, I was like, ‘There’s high heels on the field,'” Wilson said. “I couldn’t believe it. We’ve had stuff thrown at us, but not shoes.”
For such a one-sided rivalry, Alabama-Mississippi has produced some wild ones leading up to Saturday’s meeting, none moreso than last year’s controversial but fashionably shod ending.
An apparent 41-yard touchdown catch by Shay Hodge with 7 seconds left was reversed after replay officials determined Hodge ran out of bounds before catching the ball. The result was a 27-24 Alabama win and some steamed Ole Miss fans — one of whom presumably left without her pumps.
The Tide (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) has won the last three meetings, each time by three points, on everything from a last-play field goal to an overtime touchdown, but has continued to own the Western Division series. Alabama is 22-1 in games played in Tuscaloosa and has won 18 of the last 21 meetings.
With the recent musical chairs at the top of the rankings, the SEC’s only remaining unbeaten team doesn’t want to join the crowd of upset victims. Mississippi (3-3, 1-2), a 13-point underdog, has already won at No. 5 Florida this season.
“Everybody knows Ole Miss can play,” Tide defensive end Lorenzo Washington said. “They’re no pushover team. No team in the SEC is, really.”
Neither of these teams is easy to push around. Alabama is the SEC’s top team at running and stopping the run, ranking second nationally in the latter category.
Tide coach Nick Saban said physical play is a trademark of Houston Nutt’s teams. Nutt coached Arkansas before taking over at Ole Miss this year. The Rebels have three sacks in each of the past two games and lead the SEC in tackles for loss.
“(Nutt’s) teams always play physical, they’re always tough, they always play hard,” Saban said. “They always compete well in a game. Never are they out of the game, as evidenced by some of the games we’ve had in the past with them, including last year’s game.
“They’re always hard to defend.”
One reason is the “Wild Rebel” formation that utilizes receiver Dexter McCluster, who is fourth in the SEC in receiving yards and has led the team in rushing the past two games.
The biggest change Alabama players cited from recent Ole Miss teams is likely quarterback Jevan Snead, who is third in the league in passing yards.
“In the past couple of years, after Eli (Manning) left, they’ve had trouble trying to find a consistent quarterback,” Washington said. “With Snead, I think they’ve definitely found a good quarterback. He’s made a couple of turnovers, but on the flip side he’s made a ton of good plays. Throwing the ball well and making plays with his feet, too.”
Snead might have to do both against a defense that has given up just 305 rushing yards all season. Tide cornerback Javier Arenas said Snead reminds him of Georgia’s Matthew Stafford with his willingness to thread the ball into tight coverage.
“He’s good at it, too,” Arenas said. “We’ve got to respect that, but at the same time we’ve got to respect all the misdirection, passes and reverses.”
Alabama counters with a more straight-ahead, power running game. Glen Coffee is coming off a career-best 218-yard game two weeks ago against Kentucky before both teams had an open date.
Wilson could have some opportunities in the passing game. Ole Miss is allowing a league-worst 229 yards a game through the air, matching Kentucky with the most passing touchdowns allowed (nine).
Then again, Wilson completed only 7-of-17 passes against the Wildcats.
Ole Miss defensive line coach Tracy Rocker doesn’t expect much finesse from the Tide.
“There’s one thing you know about Alabama, they’re gonna come dead at you,” Rocker said. “They’re the poster child of what the SEC is all about. They’re physical and they’re playing real football, the old traditional football, and that’s what I like about it. And I think that’s what intrigues everybody else about them.”