Alabama-Ole Miss. The matchup that used to be one of the most lopsided in the history of the SEC has now become one of the most amazing series.
It started in 2014, when Bo Wallace and the Rebels shocked the No. 2 Tide and won, 23-17, in Oxford to snap a 10-game losing streak to Alabama. We followed the goalposts all around town that night.
They then pulled off an even more historic feat, going into Tuscaloosa and beating the Tide, 43-37. The win marked the first time in Ole Miss history that it’d beaten Alabama in consecutive seasons.
Now comes a chance at what some believe is unthinkable: to beat Nick Saban and No. 1 Alabama for three straight years. Per ESPN, the last time Saban lost three in a row to the same team was back in 1997-99 at Michigan State, when he lost three straight to Joe Tiller’s Purdue.
So, let’s take a look at what Ole Miss did in the last two victories for a winning formula against Alabama. It’s safe to say the No. 19 Rebels would need to replicate most of this to pull off an unprecedented three-peat.
1. Ole Miss keeps winning the turnover battle.
This, if anything, has been Alabama’s Achilles heel.
In 2014, quarterback Blake Sims had an interception in the red zone, and Christion Jones had a fumble on a kickoff return. Sims’ only pick is what sealed Ole Miss’ win in the fourth quarter.
Last season, Alabama had an unforgettable five turnovers, finishing minus-five in the turnover battle, the worst mark of the Saban era.
The point is simple: Bama has to take care of the football.
This year, Ole Miss has given up four turnovers -- including three INTs -- against Florida State, and has only one takeaway, against Wofford. Bama’s turnover margin this year is even. Last year as a whole, the Tide had the superior margin, plus-.67 per game to 0.
2. Ole Miss’ passing game has exploded late.
Turning the game into a battle of big plays has been key, especially through the air.
Wallace in 2014 threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions. All three of his touchdowns came in the second half. Per ESPN, Wallace is also just one of just five players to throw three touchdowns without a pick against Alabama in the last 10 seasons; Alabama lost each of the other four games as well.
Chad Kelly is another one of those five QBs, with 341 yards, three touchdowns, and no INTs. What’s even crazier is that all three of Kelly’s scores also came in the second half.
It’s obvious the Tide can limit the Rebels’ passing attack for a while, especially with this newly monstrous pass rush, but they can’t let it slip away.
3. Ole Miss has put pressure on inexperienced Alabama quarterbacks.
The Tide had first-year starters at QB in the last two Ole Miss games, as well. 2014’s was Sims’ second-ever SEC start, when he posted his second-worst passer rating of the year. 2015’s was the first real SEC action for both Jake Coker and Cooper Bateman, and the pair combined for Bama’s least efficient passing game of the season, throwing three picks.
Likely starting for Bama this year: true freshman Jalen Hurts, who’s impressed so far against USC and Western Kentucky.
Alabama’s watched the Florida State-Ole Miss game. FSU redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, making his first career start, struggled significantly for most of the first half, with Ole Miss completely overwhelming his injured offensive line.
At the end of the second quarter, with the Noles down 28-3, Francois was able to get going. On the night, he completed 33 of 52 passes for 419 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 59 yards. Hurts can throw and run, as well.
Ole Miss’ banged-up secondary and talented defensive line must stay after the young QB. Bama’s allowed five sacks so far this year, which is slightly on the high side, but Ole Miss’ pass rush hasn’t done much since the first half against FSU.
4. So, Bama’s had to run on Ole Miss a lot, without a ton of success overall.
In 2014, T.J. Yeldon had 123 yards, but Alabama only averaged 3.8 per carry and managed just seven rushing first downs in 44 attempts.
Last season they improved to 5.1 per carry, only slightly better than the national average.
This year, Alabama’s run game is led by sophomore Damien Harris, who has 183 yards so far, but no TDs. The Tide rank No. 71 nationally at 4.36 yards per carry, and Ole Miss’ defense has given up 4.02 so far. This looks like Bama’s offensive weakness in this matchup.
5. Ole Miss has hung around all game, and then struck late.
In the last two losses, Bama has given up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter each time.
In 2014, Wallace scored two unanswered, with the Sims pick sealing the victory.
Last year, the Tide managed to score three touchdowns in the fourth, pulling within a 30-24 margin. However, they also gave up back-to-back touchdowns.
Also, some weird stuff has gone in Ole Miss’ favor.
It takes a lot to beat Bama, so putting yourself in position for a play like that to make a difference is an achievement in itself.