Ole Miss

Ole Miss hopes to play clean against flawless Bama

Special to The Sun Herald

Ole Miss will have to clean up some things to compete with No. 1 Alabama Saturday night.

Ole Miss coach Matt Luke outlined the many ways Alabama can hurt you – both offensively and defensively – at his regular Monday press conference.

Getting behind the chains is not going to help the Rebels’ bid for a second-straight win in Tuscaloosa. Ole Miss – which won 43-37 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2015 – was called for 16 penalties for 113 lost yards in a 27-16 loss at Cal on Sept. 16. There were seven pre-snap penalties, five of them false starts along the offensive line.

“That’s obviously been an area of focus for us, and the open date gave us a chance to work on some of that. We think we got those things corrected,” Luke said. “When you get out there in front of 100,000 people you have to go execute it and do it, but I do think it’s going to be a bit better.”

The Rebels will likely have to improve communication along the offensive line without starting center Sean Rawlings. Luke called him a game-time decision, but Rawlings has not yet resumed practice after surgery last week on a severely swollen ankle.

Junior left guard Javon Patterson finished the game at Cal after Rawlings exited in the first quarter. Junior right guard Jordan Sims, however, will start at center at Alabama if Rawlings is unavailable.

The Rebels practiced last week and will again this week with simulated crowd noise. Attendance at Cal was only 37,125.

Offensive coordinator Phil Longo also expects to see improvement.

“We have to,” he said. “We didn’t handle that very well at Cal, but we didn’t have those issues in the first two games. I don’t foresee that being an issue.”

Two years ago doesn’t matter: Ole Miss jumped out to an early lead and held on to defeat Alabama 43-37 in 2015, its most recent trip to Tuscaloosa. It was the Rebels’ second win there and first since 1988. “When you have guys that have been there and played in that environment it obviously helps. Some of those offensive linemen have been in that stadium,” Luke said. “The thing about it is two years ago doesn’t mean anything for this year. This team is the one that has to go to Tuscaloosa.”

While Ole Miss has won two of the last three, Alabama leads the series 48-11-2.

Injury update: In addition to Rawlings, wide receiver A.J. Brown (knee) is also listed as a game-time decision. Brown will be limited in practice this week, Luke said. Defensive end Victor Evans is expected to practice this week as is kicker Gary Wunderlich. They’re listed as “probable” by Luke.

Careful Crimson Tide: Luke praised Alabama on all fronts but seemed most impressed by the fact that the Crimson Tide has not lost a turnover this season.

The Tide is tied for No. 3 nationally with Texas A&M in turnover margin at plus-2.0. Alabama has gained eight turnovers in four games.

Game plan

Who: Ole Miss vs. Alabama

When: 8 p.m., Saturday

Where: Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Radio: 103.1 FM

TV: ESPN

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