TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Mark Ingram didn’t want No. 8 Alabama to spend the week mourning the death of its perfect season.
The Crimson Tide tailback figured that time would be put to better use soul-searching and working to avoid a repeat Saturday night against Mississippi.
“Every person just needs to look in the mirror,” Ingram said. “It’s gut-check time and everybody needs to improve.”
The Rebels (3-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) know all about gut-check time, having rebounded from a season-opening upset by Jacksonville State and a two-touchdown loss to Vanderbilt.
But Alabama (5-1, 2-1) has lost touch with the word “rebound.” Sustaining and carrying on have more been the buzzwords for the defending national champions the past few years.
The Tide had won 19 straight and navigated two perfect regular seasons in a row before falling at No. 10 South Carolina, 35-21, last weekend. It gives the Rebels a dose of confidence. Yes, Alabama really can be beaten.
“If we can go out and be the second team to beat them, it’d be as sweet as being the first team to beat them,” Ole Miss defensive tackle Jerrell Powe said.
Maybe the Tide will use the unfamiliar experience as a tool for growth like coach Nick Saban wants and come back even better. Or perhaps the aftermath will linger into Saturday night, but quarterback Greg McElroy thinks the team is mature enough to make that unlikely.
“I don’t think it’s much of a danger,” McElroy said. “Each week is a different, separate identity and each team is motivated in different ways. Our team will learn from this. I feel strongly with the leadership that we have, I feel strongly with the coaching that we have, we will get things figured out. I really do.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a hangover from it.”
Saban has liked how the team responded in practice this week.
“I think we have a little better sense of urgency, intensity in what we’re doing,” he said. “I think when the game comes, everybody has the will to win. But the important thing is that you have the will to prepare yourselves to be able to play successfully, and that’s through preparation.
“You’ve got to play winning football for 60 minutes in a game … which I personally don’t think we’ve done all year.”
Public perception hasn’t changed much except to emphasize that the Tide really isn’t unbeatable. Alabama is still a three-touchdown favorite over the Rebels in its homecoming game and remains very much a force in the SEC Western Division and on the national scene.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt is preparing for the Ole Alabama, not the team that looked so vulnerable a week ago.
“I think we have an awesome respect for coach Nick Saban and his staff and his players and how they approach things and how they play,” Nutt said. “Either way, we know what we’re in for. You’re in for a 60-minute, physical, tough game. You have to match that intensity, especially when you go to their home.”
Ole Miss could give a tutorial on recovering from difficult losses. The Rebels have ridden an offensive explosion behind quarterback Jeremiah Masoli to a two-game winning streak, scoring 55 points against Fresno State and 42 against Kentucky.
Chances are, it will be more of a shootout than last year’s 22-3 game that marked Alabama’s sixth straight win over its SEC West foe.
It’s certainly another test for a Tide defense that appeared uncharacteristically vulnerable in a 35-21 loss in Columbia, S.C.
“Ole Miss is a really good team and very difficult in preparation because what they’re doing offensively now is not anything like what we’ve seen to this point,” Saban said. “The quarterback really creates a lot of problems and issues with his ability to run. He’s a great runner and can throw it.”
Masoli accounted for four touchdowns against Kentucky, three passing and one rushing. Saban said he is probably “the best combination guy we have seen for a while around here” and a dangerous threat in the option.
“The guy has a great feel for running the offense they are running, which is more of an Oregon-style of offense, but still has a lot of that typical Houston Nutt, downhill power kind of stuff,” Saban said.
John Zenor/The Associated Press