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Alabama football: How Ole Miss has turned into a Tide rival

September 27, 2017

TUSCALOOSA -- Two years ago, this game momentarily derailed a national championship season, “waking up” the Alabama Crimson Tide for its eventual run toward a 16th title.

“I really was like man, I’m really starting to get some type of not hatred but just some type of rival toward them,” safety Hootie Jones said of game, recalling Ole Miss’ 43-37 upset of his then-No. 2 ranked team.

The teams met again last season, when Jalen Hurts, Alabama’s true freshman still unsure of his position within a quarterback competition, took hold of his team and guided a 21-point comeback, winning 48-43 before a hostile Vaught-Hemingway Stadium crowd.

Ole Miss won in 2014, too, when Alabama surrendered a seven-point fourth quarter lead.

“They stormed the field. It was in Oxford,” said middle linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton. “I always remember that.”

Welcome to the Ole Miss-Alabama, this whacky, shootout-susceptible series which adds a new chapter Saturday night inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, the site of that 2015 game where the Tide committed five turnovers and snapped a 17-game home winning streak.

“It was kind of like they woke us up,” linebacker Anfernee Jennings said Monday, recalling that 2015 game. “Sometimes, some teams for some reason you need the ‘L’ or somebody doing something like that to you. They just woke us up. We became another team.”

The Tide became a national championship team.

The Rebels, meanwhile, have spiraled into ignominy.

Gone are Bo Wallace and Chad Kelly, the gunslinging Rebels quarterbacks who eviscerated the Tide secondary in two of the Rebels’ last three wins. So, too, is coach Hugh Freeze, the offensive mastermind who resigned in July after phone records revealed calls to numbers tied to escort services.

Now under interim coach Matt Luke, Ole Miss’ program is embroiled in NCAA controversy, having gone before the Committee on Infractions earlier this month for 21 alleged violations, 17 of which allegedly occurred under Freeze.

“We just look at it like we just want to go out and dominate each game,” Jones said. “It’s just like a big bump in the road we just got to overcome. So we just really go out there and play our best ball, man.”

For Luke, the challenge is unenviable. A Rebels lifer who played at the school before eventually joining its staff as the offensive line coach, he’s been a head coach for three entire football games.

In his 11-year tenure, Alabama coach Nick Saban has faced 10 first-time collegiate head coaches in their first seasons.

The Crimson Tide won those 10 games by a combined score of 434-36.

“I’m excited about the challenge and looking forward to going up there,” said Luke, the Rebels lifer who has never been a collegiate head coach. “It’s why you coach and why you play so you can play in these big games.”

Saban at Alabama vs. First-year coaches

TeamCoachYearScoreMississippi StateDan Mullen200931-3ChattanoogaRuss Huesman200945-0San Jose StateMike MacIntyre201048-3Kent StateDarrell Hazell201148-7FloridaWill Muschamp201138-10VanderbiltJames Franklin201134-0Western CarolinaMark Speir201249-0KentuckyMark Stoops201348-7Florida AtlanticCharlie Partridge201441-0USCClay Helton201652-6

* Helton served as USC’s interim head coach for six games in 2015, and 2016 was his first full season as a collegiate head coach.