OXFORD – Having knocked off the unbeaten No. 1 team, South Carolina has received the recognition that goes along with such an upset.
Not everyone outside the state of Alabama was happy to see the Crimson Tide lose 35-21 last Saturday in Columbia, however.
“Actually, I was disappointed,” Ole Miss wide receiver Melvin Harris said. “I wanted to be on the first team to win against them, but now we’ll just go and try to give them their second ‘L.’ ”
The Rebels (3-2, 1-1 SEC) and Crimson Tide (5-1, 2-1), tied in the loss column in the Western Division standings, meet Saturday night at 8 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, a place Ole Miss has won just once in 24 meetings.
A week ago, many believed Alabama was in position to run through another regular season unbeaten.
Now the Tide trails two unbeatens in the West, LSU and Auburn. The loss, which dropped the Tide to No. 8 in both major polls, has coupled with the near-defeat at Arkansas to create a different perception.
News came Monday that Alabama may be missing two injured offensive starters – WR Julio Jones and OL D.J. Fluker – for the Ole Miss game.
All things considered, Alabama coach Nick Saban doesn’t exactly have a vulnerable football team, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said.
“We know what kind of atmosphere we’re getting ready to walk into,” Nutt said. “We know the environment and how good they are. Nick and their football team is good and we know that.”
Still, there’s a confidence among Ole Miss players that comes from winning their last two games, then having a week to rest and heal.
And confidence that comes from watching South Carolina, which was also coming off a bye week, get the win.
“I think coach Saban does a good job every week of having those guys ready to play, so we would get the same look whether they won or lost,” defensive tackle Jerrell Powe said. “But now we can go out and be the second team to beat them, and it will be just as sweet as being the first team … the Almighty Alabama.”
Blueprint for victory
• South Carolina may have provided a blueprint for success, but it means different things for different players.
Running back Brandon Bolden says it’s about ball control on offense. Linebacker D.T. Shackelford believes it’s about gang-tackling. Wide receiver Melvin Harris says the most important thing Ole Miss can do Saturday is play with effort.
“South Carolina kept running the ball and passed when they had to,” said Bolden, who added that any defense will give up rushing yards if the offense executes its plays.
Ole Miss begins the week as the SEC’s No. 3 rushing offense, Alabama its No. 1 rushing defense.
South Carolina rushed for 110 yards, 26 above the Tide’s average allowed.
Shackelford said as he watched on TV he was most impressed with the South Carolina defense and how many “burgundy jerseys” there were around the ball on every Alabama offensive play.
Harris, though, believes the Rebels’ biggest challenge is mental.
“Basically it’s about going out there and playing for 60 minutes, not backing down and not listening to the hype … staying focused,” he said.
• Three defensive backs who sustained concussions against Kentucky – Charles Sawyer, Marcus Temple and Brishen Matthews – have had no lingering effects. They practiced Sunday and will continue to be monitored, but are expected to be available against Alabama.
Nutt did not rule out having running back Enrique Davis and center A.J. Hawkins. Davis sustained a meniscus tear that required arthroscopic surgery following the Fresno State game, and Hawkins went out with a stinger in the final seconds of the Kentucky game. Their status for the game is unclear. The availability of strong safety Johnny Brown (knee, hamstring) is also unclear at this time.
• Harris said new wide receiver packages were installed during the bye week. He did not elaborate. … Nutt said senior defensive tackle LaMark Armour has been working some at defensive end but downplayed the move, saying he’s interested in building depth and in challenging junior college transfer Wayne Dorsey to be at his best. … Ole Miss was also 3-2 after five games last season and won 5 of its last 6.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org
PARRISH ALFORD / NEMS Daily Journal