The rivalry between Alabama and Ole Miss has been about as one-sided as possible in recent years, with the Crimson Tide winning 10 straight matchups, usually in dominant fashion. Saturday’s meeting could be different, as both teams are looking to make a run at the national championship.
Through four games, Ole Miss finds themselves in the midst of their best start in 44 years. The Rebels are 4-0 for the first time since 1970, and the team is already halfway to last year’s win total. All of Mississippi’s victories have come by at least 21 points, and they are ranked No.11 in both the AP and Coaches polls.
The biggest reason for Ole Miss’ success has been a defense that ranks among the best in college football. Entering the SEC matchup, the Rebels are third in the nation, allowing just 8.5 points per game.
Even though they’ve yet to face elite SEC competition, Ole Miss isn’t just playing teams that can’t score. In the 2014 season opener, the Rebels held Boise State to 13 points, prior to the Broncos scoring at least 34 points in their next three games. Last week, Ole Miss limited Memphis to only a field goal in four quarters. In their first three games, the Tigers averaged almost 45 points per game, including a near victory over UCLA.
The Rebels will certainly get their toughest test of the season against No.3 Alabama, which has hade one of the country’s best scoring offenses under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. The Crimson Tide are averaging 42 points per game under a revamped offense, which is running 14.5 more plays per game than it did in 2013, per espn.com.
Blake Sims has done his best to replace AJ McCarron, completing 73.2 percent of his passes for 1,091 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Ole Miss will also have to be wary of the quarterback’s ability to run, considering he’s totaled 141 yards and two scores on the ground.
The biggest challenge for the Rebels will be their attempt to contain Amari Cooper. The Heisman Trophy candidate ranks second in the nation with 655 receiving yards, to go along with his 43 catches and five touchdowns. Cooper has been unstoppable in every game, never recording less than eight receptions or 130 yards.
"I'm going to be honest: he's a great receiver," Ole Miss safety Mike Hilton told reporters on Monday. "He's fast, when he blocks he's physical, they get the ball into his hands anyway they can and let him make a play. We know that when he gets the ball we need to rally around and get him down."
Alabama and Ole Miss haven’t played a close game since 2008, and the Crimson Tide have defeated the Rebels by an average of 24 points in the last six years. After being shutout 25-0 last year, Ole Miss is looking to steal a victory in this rivalry. Alabama is favored by six points on the road, according to the betting odds at Las Vegas casinos. The over/under is 51 total points.
Prediction: The Alabama offense has played like one of the best in college football in 2014, but that could change at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Ole Miss sports the sixth-best pass defense, allowing just 133.5 yards through the air each game, and could be the first team to limit Cooper's effectiveness. In a tough environment, Alabama could have trouble getting their second conference win of the season.
Predicted Score: Ole Miss 24, Alabama 20