The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The defending national champions will attempt to get back on track this weekend, as they welcome the Ole Miss Rebels to Tuscaloosa for an SEC West showdown.
Alabama had its streak of 29 straight regular-season victories comes to an end this past weekend, with a 35-21 loss at South Carolina. The setback dropped the Crimson Tide from number one in the country to the eighth spot in the polls. Still, the SEC West is up for grabs and Nick Saban's squad is still as good as any in the conference.
Houston Nutt's Rebels would like nothing better than to keep Alabama in the loss column. Ole Miss has won two straight games to move to 3-2 on the year, including a 42-35 shootout victory over Kentucky two weeks ago. The Rebels were idle this past weekend, giving the team extra time to prepare for the Tide.
Nutt knows his team is still in the hunt in the SEC West.
"It is all jammed up. There are a lot of good football teams. Anybody can win. Its tough. This western side is very, very difficult. We're right in the middle of it. Usually, Alabama has been so far ahead of everybody, but now its different. LSU and Auburn are undefeated, but there is still a lot of football left."
Alabama holds a huge advantage in the all-time series, which now stands at 43-9-2. The Crimson Tide have won six straight over the Rebels overall and nine straight in the series at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Ole Miss has had success on the offensive side of ball and with balance between the run and the pass, the Rebels make things difficult for opposing defenses. The team is generating 37.2 ppg thus far, averaging a hefty 232.0 yards rushing and an additional 191.4 passing.
Former Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli has settled in under center in Oxford. he has played to mixed reviews in the first half of the season, completing 60.6 percent of his passes, for 823 yards and six TDs, with five INTs. He also ranks second on the team in rushing (52.4 ypg) and has three rushing scores to his credit as well.
The ground game is paced by tailback Brandon Bolden, who is averaging nearly seven yards per carry. Bolden is netting 103.6 yards per game and has scored five TDs. In all, Ole Miss has reached the end zone 14 times rushing the football, so look for the Rebels to try to establish the ground game early in Tuscaloosa.
While the offense has had its success, Ole Miss' defensive effort has been lacking. The Rebels are yielding a generous 32.6 ppg and have been particularly vulnerable to the pass (246.6 ypg). The unit does get up the field and make plays, with 34 TFLs and 13 sacks, but turnovers have been hard to come by (six in five games).
Senior linebacker Jonathan Cornell has been a force in the middle, leading the team in tackles (40), TFLs (8.0) and sacks (3.0). Junior free safety Damien Jackson is second in stops (37).
Alabama really struggled on the offensive side of the ball in Columbia this past weekend, something that is certainly not the norm for the defending champs. Despite the poor showing, the Tide are still averaging 35.0 ppg, on 445.2 yards of total offense. Balance is the key, with the team churning out 197.5 yards rushing and 247.7 yards passing per outing.
It starts in the backfield with Heisman winner Mark Ingram and sophomore sensation Trent Richardson. Both players are averaging 7.0 yards per carry, and while Richardson leads the team with 442 yards, Ingram has played in two less games and is close at 396 yards. The pair have combined for 10 of the team's 13 rushing TDs, with Richardson adding additional scores via the pass (1) and on a kick return (1).
Quarterback Greg McElroy has simply had to manage the offense and while he failed to do that against South Carolina last weekend, his numbers on the season are still solid. The senior signal-caller has completed over 72 percent of his passes, for 1,298 yards, with nine TDs and three INTs. However, the passing game is expected to take a hit this week with leading receiver Julio Jones (32 receptions, for 440 yards, three TDs) sidelined with a hand injury.
The Alabama defense is inexperienced for the most part and finally showed some chinks in the armor against the Gamecocks last week, giving up big plays both on the ground and through the air. Still, it was more of an anomaly, with Alabama still posting impressive numbers overall. Teams are only averaging 13.3 ppg and doing so on a mere 295.5 yards of total offense. While there hasn't been much of a pass rush yet (six sacks in six games), the Tide have recorded 12 INTs.
Saban knows that Ole Miss will present a challenge for his young defense.
"Anytime you play Ole Miss it's a tough game. Anytime you play a Houston Nutt- coached team it's a tough game. They bounced back with two quality wins. As (Jeremiah) Masoli has gotten more comfortable with their offense they have been very, very productive and one of the leading teams in the country in terms of scoring points. In the last two weeks they've put up 55 and 42 points so this is a different kind of offense."
Leading the charge in that area are sophomore DBs Robert Lester (25 tackles, one sack, four INTs and one fumble recovery) and Dre Kirkpatrick (28 tackles, three INTs). Adding to the strong play in the secondary is junior Mark Barron (team-high 40 tackles, two sacks, one INT). Sophomore LB Dont'a Hightower (31 tackles) is the playmaker in the middle of the field.