Most teams would be happy to start the season 3-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation.
But the Alabama Crimson Tide have posted three straight uneven performances, and head coach Nick Saban reportedly took personal time to speak to some of his rattled players individually, ahead of Saturday’s SEC matchup with No. 21 Ole Miss at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Saban said on Thursday to AL.com that many of his players are experiencing anxiety, especially after their struggles in last week’s 31-6 win over Colorado State.
"I ask them how they feel, tell them you felt like that sometime before and you found out this by the experience you had, so this is what you need to do to improve or get better or whatever," Saban said. "I said 'A, it shows you care, but B, you're going to affect some other guys on our team to buy in to doing things the way we need to do it, which is going to impact the consistency that we're talking about.'"
The Tide were up for the entire game, but needed 14 fourth quarter points to squash any chance of an upset against a lesser Rams squad. Quarterback A.J. McCarron had 258 yards passing, with one touchdown and a pick, while Alabama could only muster 66 rushing yards. In their previous two games, the Tide averaged 165 yards on the ground.
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Senior receiver Christion Jones had nine catches for 90 yards, and DeAndrew White and Chris Black each caught a touchdown.
Despite the well documented issues of their offensive line, the defending national champions still hold a psychological edge over Ole Miss. Including vacated wins, the Tide have beaten Ole Miss nine straight times. Last season, McCarron tossed two touchdowns, Jones ran a kickoff back 99 yards for a touchdown, and the Tide defense surrendered only 80 rushing yards.
Alabama also lucked out with the Rebels best defensive player limping into Saturday's matchup. Ole Miss freshman star Robert Nkemdiche will play but won’t start due to a knee injury sustained in the Rebels season-opener. The defensive end was the most sought after recruit in the country earlier this year, and in three games he’s totaled 10 tackles, including four for a loss of nine yards.
Nkemdiche joins junior linebacker Serderius Bryant, and junior defensive back Cody Prewitt on a Rebels defense that’s allowed opponents to score on all nine of their trips to the red zone, and letting up 23.7 points per game.
Steering the offense is dual-threat quarterback Bo Wallace, who's passed for 648 yards and four touchdowns, with another three scores on the ground. Top rusher Jeff Scott has 330 yards and two touchdowns.
Wallace has spread the ball all over the field with receivers Evan Engram, Donte Moncrief, and Laquon Treadwell posting a combined 38 receptions for 502 yards and four touchdowns.
The game starts at 6:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast by ESPN, or watch live online at Watch ESPN here.
Betting Odds: Alabama favored by 14.5 points.
Over/Under: 55.5 points
Prediction: Alabama 37, Ole Miss 20