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Alabama players talk ‘very competitive’ games of late against Ole Miss

HOOVER, Ala. — Ole Miss is the last Southeastern Conference team to beat Alabama. That was 22 months ago.

In fact, the Rebels have been the lone thorn in what’s been largely an immaculate side of the league’s behemoth, which has won three straight SEC titles and 17 conference games in a row since falling to Ole Miss two Septembers ago.

While the Crimson Tide are beating everybody by an average of more than three touchdowns during their streak, it’s been significantly tougher for Alabama to shake the Rebels, whose only loss in the series the last three years came by five points last season.

So what is it about Ole Miss when everybody else struggles to put up a fight against Nick Saban’s process? Alabama’s players had varying answers during SEC Media Days on Wednesday if they had any at all.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Alabama center Bradley Bozeman said. “They’re competitors just like us. They want to win as bad as we do.”

The common thread in the teams’ recent matchups has been Ole Miss’ eye-popping offensive numbers that are rarely put up against Saban’s collection of four- and five-star recruits. Alabama annually ranks in the top 10 nationally in total defense and scoring defense and led the SEC in both categories each of the last two seasons.

Yet Ole Miss hasn’t had that much trouble, averaging 427.3 yards and 36.3 points against the Tide since ending a 10-game losing streak in the series with a 23-17 win in 2014. Most of that production has come through big plays in the passing game with the Rebels averaging more than 337 yards through the air with nine passing touchdowns against Alabama since then.

Those games, which include a 421-yard passing day for Chad Kelly in Alabama’s 48-43 win last season, have stuck with Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who wasn’t willing to give Ole Miss all the credit.

“Honestly, those games, it was us. It was nothing that they really did,” said Fitzpatrick, a first-team All-American last season after pulling down six interceptions. “It was just us not playing well. My freshman year, we gave up plays that we would never give up to any other team. We just didn’t do what we were supposed to do. Even last year, we gave up like 400-something passing yards, which is something we never do. They were just taking advantage of our mistakes.”

Four of the last five games between the teams have been played in September with Ole Miss opening SEC play against the Tide each of the last two seasons, something Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley said plays in Ole Miss’ favor. The Rebels will do so again this season when they travel to Tuscaloosa on Sept. 30 looking for their second straight win at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

“I guess they’re really healthy at the beginning of the season to be able to give us their best game,” Ridley said. “It’s just very competitive with them.”

Bo Wallace’s late touchdown pass to Jaylen Walton and Senquez Golson’s ensuing interception sealed that six-point win for Ole Miss in a back-and-forth game in 2014, but the Rebels showed glimpses of dominance the last two seasons. Ole Miss led by as many as 20 points in 2015 before holding on for a 43-37 win and had a 24-3 hold on the Crimson Tide last year before Alabama stormed back to prevent what could’ve been Ole Miss’ first-ever three-game winning streak in the series.

Alabama will try to keep its SEC streak intact against Ole Miss in a couple months, but those taking the field for the Tide know it’ll be anything but easy.

“They’re going to play hard-nosed, they’re going to challenge us, and just like any other team, they’re going to bring their best,” Bozeman said.

Said Ridley, “They’re a really good team. If they can stay, they’ll probably be a lot better this year.”