TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama remains in search of a game where everything comes together.
The Crimson Tide is still unbeaten and ranked No. 1 but not feeling especially good about the team's performance so far. Even soft-spoken linebacker C.J. Mosley was upset enough to speak up after an unimpressive showing against huge underdog Colorado State, knowing that beating No. 21 Mississippi Saturday night will likely require much better.
"We haven't put a whole game together as far as offense, special teams and defense," linebacker Trey DePriest said. "We haven't put the whole thing together. One side will be clicking one game, the other side won't be clicking. I say we're hungry because every game we've had each other's back — and we held up."
The Tide (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) hasn't lost much national respect in the process, just a few No. 1 votes.
Coach Nick Saban said fans don't need to be sitting around grumbling, "Aw, what's wrong with these guys?"
"Everybody has just sort of gotten overwhelmed with expectations," Saban said. "It's been my word from the beginning of time that this is a different team. This is a new team. They've got to create their own identity by what they do and how they play."
Hugh Freeze's Rebels (3-0, 1-0) are aiming to earn a larger chunk of national esteem by nabbing their first win over a top-ranked team in 10 tries.
Thanks to a scheduling quirk, they're making a return trip to Tuscaloosa after last season's 33-14 loss. Freeze found enough positives from that game to show players clips leading up to the rematch.
"Even though the scoreboard showed they beat us fairly good, I think our kids took some great confidence out of that game," he said. "It kind of helped us play better the rest of the year because we played a physical game, we didn't seem like we were overmatched in the physical part of the game. We gave up some big plays and we turned the ball over, and you're not going to beat them if you do that."
For Alabama, winning games just isn't enough these days. Mosley said he, quarterback AJ McCarron and safety Vinnie Sunseri gave the team a talking-to after a 31-6 win over Colorado State that was close going into the fourth quarter.
"I started off because I was pretty upset, especially with the defense, because the things we gave up were off mental errors, just little things," Mosley said. "I felt like we're about to play Ole Miss next week, about to start getting into SEC play, so all those little things will get us beat bad and get us embarrassed. So we've got to make sure everybody is doing their job."
Here are five things to watch when Alabama looks for its 10th straight win over Ole Miss:
REBELS FOR REAL?: Ole Miss is trying to move to 4-0 for the first time since 1970, but hasn't faced a ranked team yet. A win would help move the Rebels out of the shadows of SEC West heavyweights Bama, LSU and Texas A&M.
SCOTT VS. YELDON: The Rebels' Jeff Scott has averaged a whopping 9.4 yards on 35 carries for Ole Miss and gashed Texas for a career-high 164 rushing yards and a 73-yard punt return. Alabama tailback T.J. Yeldon leads the way for a running game that surprisingly ranks last in the SEC. He had a 149-yard game against Texas A&M.
BIG-GAME QBS: Alabama's AJ McCarron has thrived against Texas A&M and in two national championship games. Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace has passed for 460 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 105 yards and three scores in road games with Vanderbilt and Texas. He hasn't thrown an interception.
SECONDARY PRIORITIES: Both defenses have allowed 400-plus yard passing games, Ole Miss against Vanderbilt and Alabama versus Texas A&M. Starting defensive backs Deion Belue and Jarrick Williams are expected back from injuries for the Tide. The Rebels have had only one defensive back, Cody Prewitt, start every game at the same spot.
FRESHMAN FIVE: The Rebels, who have been starting five freshmen, have already played in front of 100,000-plus mostly hostile fans at Texas and won 44-23. Now, they have to handle the noise and high emotion in a similar environment against an SEC power.