TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After dominating the rivalry for the course of the series, Alabama has had its hands full with Ole Miss the last two seasons.
In 2014, Ole Miss snapped a 10-game losing streak to Alabama. Last season, the Rebels beat the Crimson Tide in back-to-back years for the first time in series history.
The competitiveness in recent years has bumped this one from a game many didn’t care about to must-see television, which is why CBS announced it’ll carry the contest on Sept. 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET as its Game of the Week.
With that in mind, we wondered why Ole Miss has been such a tough matchup for Alabama in the last two years?
Why have the Rebels been so successful against the Crimson Tide in the last two seasons after a decade a beat downs at the hands of the Crimson Tide?
Turnovers killed the Tide
Alabama lost the turnover battle in both of the last two games against Ole Miss. In 2014, the Crimson Tide committed two turnovers (fumble, interception) while forcing only one (fumble).
After building a 14-3 lead at halftime, Alabama would score just three points the rest of the way as Ole Miss stormed back.
In that game, a late interception thrown by Blake Sims handed the Tide an early-season loss. Sims tried to go for the home run with Alabama down 23-17. But the pass was late, and tight end O.J. Howard was outjumped by Ole Miss defensive back Senquez Golson to close out the contest.
Last season’s game saw Alabama give the ball away a grand total of five times. Credit to Ole Miss for forcing those turnovers. But most of those were giveaways by Alabama as the two fumbles came on sloppy ball carrying on kickoff returns, and the interceptions on poorly thrown or overthrown passes.
But despite all of the mistakes, Alabama still had an opportunity to win the game late. But the fifth turnover, an interception thrown by Jake Coker, ended the Tide’s hope at an undefeated season.
Ole Miss’ 2013 recruiting class led the way
According to 247Sports composite, Ole Miss’ recruiting class was the fourth-best in the nation during the 2013 cycle. The group — headlined by five-star prospects Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil and safety Tony Conner — would become key figures in Ole Miss’ two wins over Alabama.
Treadwell caught a touchdown pass in each of the last two games. Nkemdiche routinely lived in the backfield against Alabama, and had the best game of his career in Tuscaloosa last season. Conner had 16 total tackles in the two games.
For the first time in recent history, Ole Miss had elite players on both sides of the ball to combat Alabama’s high-profiled recruits.
Due to an injury suffered last season, Conner is the lone holdover from that class as Nkemdiche, Treadwell and Tunsil were all selected in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.
It’ll be interested to see how Ole Miss plays this season without a lot of the players coach Hugh Freeze built the program around.