TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The whisky bottles were whizzing towards the field and Kareem Jackson wasn’t sticking around to watch them land.
Alabama was finishing off Ole Miss 27-24 in front of a rowdy Oxford crowd in 2007 when the projectiles landed on the playing surface.
“Coach told us it was going to be a crazy atmosphere,” said Jackson, now a junior cornerback. “But I didn’t expect anything like that. But once that happened, I was ready to get in the locker room.”
The third-ranked Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC) returns to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at 3:30 p.m. today for what both sides hope will be a more peaceful gathering. The stakes certainly will be higher.
It has been billed as an SEC West Division title game, but Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1) fell from the ranks to the top 5 two weeks ago with a loss at South Carolina. Still, a win over the undefeated Tide would put the Rebels back in the race for their first trip to the SEC Championship Game, but some of the luster has been stripped from this game’s profile.
Considering how the past two meetings ended, another tense contest can be expected. The showering bottles of 2007 followed a late-game interception the preserved an Alabama victory.
Then last fall, a last-minute Rebel drive fell short of the end zone in a 24-20 Alabama win in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Tide coach Nick Saban isn’t allowing his players to think any less of this game in spite of the Rebels’ surprisingly slow start.
“This is a big national TV game, the kind of game the players ought to be excited about and have a tremendous sense of urgency to get ready to play,” Saban said. “It should be the kind of game that you come to a place like Alabama to be able to play.”
Ole Miss won just two of its first four games last season before stunning the nation with a road win at Florida in the fifth game.
Two of the Rebels’ top skill players are also due for a breakout performance. Quarterback Jevan Snead and wide receiver Dexter McCluster have struggled at times. They are still on the minds of Alabama defenders charged with keeping both in check.
McCluster was one of the 31 Rebels who battled the flu early in the season as the virus sent him to the hospital in September. Now back at full strength, Tide cornerback Javier Arenas said McCluster can’t sneak away from the Tide.
“It’s tough playing against a guy like that because he’s going to make catches and he’s going to make a play,: Arenas said. “You’ve got to keep your poise and be ready to fight on the next one.”
Following the national trend started by Houston Nutt’s 2007 Arkansas team, McCluster is a threat as the quarterback in the Rebel’s “Wildcat” offense. He has yet to throw a pass this season, but at 5-9, 170 pounds with a 40-yard dash time as low as 4.3 seconds, his ability to disappear behind lineman before hitting the afterburners can easily frustrate defenders. He has 157 yards on 31 carries and caught 11 passes for 155 yards.