171 points later, Alabama-Ole Miss have craziest SEC rivalry going

Thursday, 28 September 2017, 09:23:45 PM. Alabama and Ole Miss have played two insane games the last two seasons.

Alabama-Ole Miss games are enough to drive even casual fans to vice.

They're just nuts. Emotional swings left these two stadiums drained the past two Septembers.

The sheer length of the last two meetings was torture enough -- both spanning four-plus hours. Though he denied it, even Nick Saban looked a little gassed after surviving the wild swings of a 48-43 win in Oxford.

"You have coaches getting IVs," Saban said in a particularly candid postgame news conference. "You have players getting IVs. But the old fella doesn't need an IV because they don't make 'em like they used to."

After splitting in 2015 and '16, these two will pick back up where the last two football fist fights ended at 8 p.m. CT in Bryant-Denny Stadium. They played past midnight the last time in Tuscaloosa when this rivalry took another step.

The year before that in 2014, a rather pedestrian 23-17 Ole Miss upset of No. 1 Alabama set everything in motion. What followed were two frankly bizarre games unique to college football's sometimes unrefined charm.

It began with the 43-37 Alabama loss two years ago in Bryant-Denny Stadium and continued with a 48-43 rebuttal last September in Mississippi. The combined numbers only begin to tell the story.

Total points: 171.

Total yards: 1,955.

First downs: 90.

That was the window dressing. The biggest factor in each of the last two games was turnovers.

Alabama in 2015 gave it away five times, directly leading to 24 Ole Miss points. Then last season, the Rebels' 24-7 lead evaporated into an 18-point deficit thanks to two fumble return touchdowns and another on a punt return.

Both times the losing team outgained the winners.

Turnovers this early season have told two different stories for Alabama and Ole Miss. The Tide is the only team in the country not to give away a single possession. It is ranked No. 3 nationally with a plus-8 turnover margin. Ole Miss is 98th at negative-2.

That five-giveaway loss two years ago was a turning point in what became a national-championship season.

"It was kind of like they woke us up," Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings said. "Sometimes, some teams for some reason you need the 'L' or somebody doing something to you that you, they just woke us up. We became another team."

The game started with an Alabama fumble on the opening kickoff in a symbolic moment. From there, Ole Miss scored on a highlight-reel, scrambling heave that was tipped and caught for a 66-yard touchdown. Later, a controversial run-pass option with linemen downfield went for a 73-yard Rebel touchdown.

The 43-37 Ole Miss win was its first in Tuscaloosa since 1988 and only the second ever. Coupled with the 2014 Rebel win in Oxford, this rivalry was back. No team has won in Bryant-Denny Stadium since that September 2015 game that ended at 12:26 a.m.

"We just know that they're not going to be intimidated," Alabama left guard Ross Pierschbacher said. "They've been in there, done it before. So, we're just going to have to come out and, like we did last week, just try to earn their respect and just try to play Alabama football."

Last year's game flipped on non-offensive scores for the other side. After Ole Miss returned a Jalen Hurts' fumble for a touchdown and 24-3 lead, Alabama scored three times with defense or special teams. Twice defensive linemen returned fumbles for a touchdown while Eddie Jackson returned a punt to help spark the comeback.

After the 45-6 Alabama scoring run, Ole Miss scored two late touchdowns to make things tense again in the closing moments. The Rebels gained 527 yards to Alabama's 492, yet lost because of the unconventional scoring methods.

http://www.al.com/alabamafootball/index.ssf/2016/09/why_nick_saban_cracked_a_smile.html

The 43 Rebel points dwarfed the 13.0 Alabama opponents averaged last season. The same could be said of the 421 passing yards (197.9-yard average) and the Rebels' 527 yards doubled the Tide's national best 261.8-yard average allowance.

"This game was so wild and woolly . . . It was an unbelievable game for fans to watch," Saban said in that sweaty, cramped media room under Vaught-Hemingway Stadium last September. "It was a really difficult game for a coach to have to suffer through but we made it. We made it."

A total of eight turnovers were committed in the last two Alabama-Ole Miss games. They resulted in 45 points for the other guys.

There's more.

Alabama's offseason hiring of former Ole Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner only added some sizzle to the whole dynamic. Werner was co-OC in Oxford for the last five seasons before being fired in December. He's now an offensive analyst in Tuscaloosa. Before that, Ole Miss hired Alabama staffer Freddie Roach to be its new defensive line coach -- a job held previously by Chris Kiffin, the brother of ex-Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

Alabama-Ole Miss over last 2 seasons

 AlabamaOle MissPoints 85 86 Rush 549 198 Pass 499 709 Total 995 960 First down 51 39 Turnover 6 2 Pts of TO 14 31

So, both teams have new offensive coordinators, though the basic styles haven't shifted much. Alabama will still rather beat you with the run. Ole Miss still doesn't have much of a ground game, but it ranks fourth nationally in passing offense.

"I think conditioning is a big part of it," Saban said Wednesday. "It seems like they go fast at times, maybe not as fast as what they were before. They have a pretty high play count. I think the key to it is you've got to keep the ball on offense some, but you also have to get your defense get them off the field because you don't want to let them extend drives, because when they get those 10-12 play drives and they are going fast, that's when your players really get worn out. And if they're not subbing people, it's difficult to sub people."

The shine has been buffed off this Ole Miss program with off-field scandals resulting in the firing of head coach Hugh Freeze and the NCAA nearing an end to an unrelated recruiting investigation.

Alabama was a 28-point favorite when the lines were released Sunday.

Early-season Rebel wins over South Alabama and UT Martin didn't inspire hope for a team that already self-imposed a bowl ban for this season. It trailed UT Martin 9-0 and 16-7 before winning 45-23.

Ole Miss last played two weeks ago in a late-night 27-16 loss at Cal as the offense struggled to 131 second-half yards. Shea Patterson threw an interception returned 32 yards for the game-clinching touchdown with 3:00 to play.

It's perhaps the perfect prelude to another Alabama-Ole Miss meeting. Action is frantic and it can go all night.

And turnovers, they'll drive you mad.

Michael Casagrande is an Alabama beat writer for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande.

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