73F Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, AL
Alabama's offensive woes have been partially masked by its ability to score in other ways, but coach Nick Saban knows improvement on that side of the ball is paramount to his top-ranked team's success moving forward.
That doesn't mean Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze believes his No. 21 Rebels will have it any easier as they try to end a nine-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama's offense stalled at times and ran for only 66 yards - its fewest on the ground since 2010 - in a 31-6 victory over Colorado State last week. Though the Tide (3-0, 1-0 SEC) totaled 568 yards in a 49-42 road win over then-No. 6 Texas A&M on Sept. 14, they had only 206 in a season-opening win over Virginia Tech and finished with 338 last Saturday.
They've managed to survive due to five total touchdowns from the defense and special teams, but Saban needs his offense to find a rhythm. Alabama's average of 132.0 rushing yards ranks last in the SEC and the Tide are second worst in total offense at 370.7 yards per game.
"We obviously have a difficult game coming up, and we need to get it right," Saban said. "We didn't do a very good job on third down. We couldn't run the ball, couldn't finish a lot of drives, and consequently (Colorado State) stayed in the game and we could never put them away."
Alabama played last week without top receiver Amari Cooper and guard Anthony Steen due to injuries as Saban held them out in preparation for this contest.
"Obviously we didn't perform as well offensively as we're capable of," said Kellen Williams, who started in Steen's place. "We felt like we left a lot out on the field. Even though it's a win, in our minds it's just we didn't perform the way we're capable of performing."
Ole Miss is 3-0 for the first time since 1989 and won its only SEC contest 39-35 over Vanderbilt on Aug. 29. The fast start is due in large part to the Rebels averaging 38.0 points and rushing for 250.0 yards a game, second best in the conference.
They're coming off a bye after beating Texas 44-23 on Sept. 14, as Jeff Scott ran 19 times for 164 yards and a touchdown. Bo Wallace was 17 of 25 for 177 yards and two TDs.
"I think we can put points on them," Wallace said of the Tide. "I think we can put points on anybody. We've just go to show up and play. It's the same thing every week - let's stay on schedule, control the tempo and don't have any turnovers."
Alabama, however, has held two of its three opponents to fewer than 280 total yards and gave up 51 on the ground last week.
"It's an opportunity to go and stand in front of the measuring stick," Freeze said. "To prove that we should be there. That's what we'll focus on."
Ole Miss is allowing an average of just 114.3 rushing yards, but Alabama hasn't been held to fewer than 100 on the ground in two straight games since 2005.
"We're not going to stop them the whole night," Freeze said. "Hopefully we can score enough points and stop them enough that we have a shot in the fourth quarter. If you're in the game in the fourth quarter, our kids will play the entire 60 minutes, and we'll see what happens."
The Tide's A.J. McCarron went 20 of 26 for 258 yards with one touchdown and one interception last week, and he doesn't think it's going to get any easier against the Rebels.
"Unbelievable," McCarron said of Mississippi's defense. "I mean, they've got ballplayers all the way around. They're really good, so it's going to be a challenge for us, it really is. We're going to have to step up, meet that challenge and get ready to play."
Ole Miss hasn't beaten Alabama since a 43-28 home win Oct. 18, 2003, and the Tide have won 11 straight meetings at Tuscaloosa, though victories in 2005, '06 and '07 were vacated due to NCAA sanctions.