Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Article from Mobile Press Register

(AL.com)TUSCALOOSA — Of his latest date with Ole Miss, Alabama senior quarterback John Parker Wilson's best remembers a pair of high-heeled shoes.

Bright red and strewn behind the end zone at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, they were a unique symbol of football craziness in the Deep South, one that defied any reasonable explanation beyond the final score.

"It was the girls' shoes that really stuck with me," Wilson said. "I couldn't believe it. We've had stuff thrown on us, but not shoes."

When second-ranked Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC) relives its long-standing rivalry with Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, be warned that strange things can happen.

It's a wild series not shy on history despite its overwhelmingly one-sided nature. The Crimson Tide is 22-1 all-time against the Rebels in Tuscaloosa, but that one defeat — a 22-12 decision in 1988 — led to a tale of a brick being thrown through former coach Bill Curry's office window.

Alabama has since won 15 of the past 17 meetings and boasts a current four-game winning streak. The past three victories, however, have each been thrilling three-point games not decided until the final seconds.

Jamie Christensen booted a game-winning 31-yard field goal in Oxford in 2005. Alabama scored a touchdown for an overtime victory in 2006. And then there was last year's melee. Referees overturned a 41-yard, fourth-down completion with seven seconds to play. Replay officials ruled that Ole Miss receiver Shay Hodge stepped out of bounds before wrestling the ball from former Crimson Tide cornerback Lionel Mitchell.

Home fans were not amused, and Alabama players donned helmets and raced to the locker room with a 27-24 victory.

"It was just a rough place to be in," Crimson Tide tailback Glen Coffee said.

Such memories make an unmistakable caution flag for Alabama, which senses the danger as it chases national and conference title hopes.

"Everybody knows Ole Miss can play," defensive end Lorenzo Washington said.

"They're no pushover team. Everybody has their mind right coming off the break."

Alabama coach Nick Saban liked the timing of last week's bye, because it gave his team a chance to recharge emotionally as much as physically. Indeed, not one player missed practice Monday because of injury.

The same can be said for a healthy Ole Miss, which was also idle last week.

"Strategically, this landed right for us," Saban said. "But we'll see what kind of advantage it is relative to how we go out and play. There are those who would say if you're playing well and have good momentum in the season, you'd rather keep playing."

In preparing for these Rebels, the Crimson Tide's defense has actually spent more time examining tape of Arkansas. Houston Nutt left Arkansas this past offseason to take over at Ole Miss, where Saban has noticed clear "similarities in the kicking game and similarities in things that they do on offense."

"It's the exact same thing," Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas said. "We watched film of Houston Nutt when he was at Arkansas and the plays that they ran against us last year. Then coach will flip on the play from this year and Ole Miss and it will be the exact same play."

Nutt's one conference victory to date at Ole Miss came against what was the nation's No. 4-ranked team. It shouldn't have been so surprising. By winning at Florida 31-30 on Sept. 27, Nutt improved to 5-7 all-time against top-five opponents.

Nutt has now beaten two top-five teams in a row. The Razorbacks edged then-No. 1 LSU in three overtimes late last season.

"In the Florida week, we just had an attitude of knowing that no one was going to give us a chance anyway, so we went in there relaxed and poised and ready to execute the game plan," Ole Miss center Daverin Geralds said. "That's what we did pretty much, and we ended up being successful. That's the attitude we had this last week."

The first year at Ole Miss hasn't been without growing pains for Nutt and his staff. Coupled with the Florida upset — which earned the cover of Sports Illustrated — were home defeats to Vanderbilt and South Carolina.

Nutt's physical diet of run-first football and field position has been hampered by a minus-6 turnover margin and a time of possession total ranking 11th in the SEC.

In fact, Alabama has actually used that formula far better than Ole Miss this year, leading the SEC in both rushing offense and defense.

"I know we're going to be able to get ours though, in time," Nutt said of his team's offensive progression. "There's no question in my mind, where we're located, the facilities that we have, it's not going to take us long. But I'm used to seeing our name up there as the No. 1 rushing team."