By John Zenor/The Associated Press
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Maybe the huddles have been holding teams back against No. 1 Alabama.
The Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) faces Mississippi and Hugh Freeze’s uptempo, no-huddle offense Saturday night, at least presenting Alabama’s defense with a different- challenge.
So far, nobody has mustered much offense or presented much of a problem against Alabama. Now, it’s the Rebels’ turn to give it a shot in their SEC opener after a 3-1 start to the Freeze era against mostly suspect competition.
“They have been very, very impressive,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “The no-huddle style is a little bit like Auburn used to be with Gus Malzahn. They’re playing hard, they’re playing with a lot of spirit.”
And now they’re playing a team that is outscoring all-comers by an average of 37 points a game.
The Rebels come in as 31-point underdogs and having lost eight consecutive SEC openers. They’re also winless in eight tries against No. 1 teams and have beaten Alabama just nine times in 59 meetings.
While this might seem like an SEC mismatch, the coaches have been showing the players video of Tim Tebow’s emotional speech after Florida was stunned, in 2008 by, as Saban said, “Guess who?” The answer: Ole Miss.
The Gators responded by going undefeated the rest of the way and winning a second national title in three years. Saban maintains he wants his team to navigate the season without having an “I told you so” game. Or anything that requires a similar speech.
“We watch that during our workouts,” Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner said. “They’ll have it playing. Then we’ll come in in certain groups and watch it. We’re trying to not let it be us that same way that happened to them. We’re not trying to make it have a loss and then we have to give a big speech after it because we lost the game.”
Ole Miss does lead the SEC in rushing offense at 259.8 yards a game — nearly 11 more than Alabama has given up all season.
Skipping the huddles and pushing the pace is a better bet than simply pounding away at the Tide, which has a formidable front seven and depth all over the defense. The Rebels are averaging 72 offensive plays a game, compared to the 55 Alabama’s defense is typically on the field.
The Tide is aiming to disrupt that rhythm.
“If we force three and out, it’s going to work in our favor,” Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson said. “If we don’t, it’s going to work in theirs.”
Ole Miss has been swapping in quarterbacks Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti, both dual threats. Leading rusher Jeff Scott is averaging 8.6 yards on 31 carries.
No. 12 Texas had trouble stopping the Rebels — and vice versa — in a 66-31 shootout two weeks ago.
“They’ve won three games and they scored a lot of points against Texas, who has a pretty good team,” Saban said. “I think they believe in and have some good players to do the things that they’re trying to do on offense.
“It’s a very sound, effective offensive scheme that they run that creates a lot of difficulties for the defense. I think that there’s a lot of positives about what Hugh Freeze has done in terms of what he’s implemented and what he’s done and how their kids have responded to it.”
Now comes the ultimate test of that progress for a program that was 1-3 at this point last season.
The Rebels ranks third in the SEC in total yards, producing 488 a game. Alabama is yielding the third-fewest nationally (185).
Quarterback AJ McCarron and the Tide offense has been hard to stop, too. If the trick is striking at the Tide’s weaknesses, Freeze insists he’s still searching.
“I certainly wouldn’t say that they have any weakness,” Freeze said. “The thing you don’t see is they just don’t get out of position. It is very, very rare. They’re just not giving up big plays. They’re always in position and very fundamentally sound. When you add to that how talented they are, it is very difficult to say they have a weakness. Our challenge will be just to stay on schedule and not put ourselves behind the chains very much. That’s the truth every game, but against them it’s even more important.”
Tide safety Robert Lester said preparation is the key to dealing with the tempo.
“They can go as fast as they want, and as long as you’ve seen it before and prepared for it, you can adjust to it,” Lester said.
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Oxford, Miss., contributed to this report.
Follow John Zenor on Twitter: http//twitter.com/jzenor
Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium
Kickoff: 8:15 p.m.
Radio: Ole Miss Network; Sirius 94, XM 200
Records: Ole Miss 3-1, 0-0 SEC, Alabama 4-0, 1-0 SEC
Series: Alabama leads 48-9-2