Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin is looking to earn his first victory over his former boss, Nick Saban, as the No. 15 Rebels (3-0) gear up to face No. 13 Alabama (2-1) on the road Saturday afternoon to kick off conference play.
Since taking over in Oxford, Kiffin is 0-3 versus the six-time national championship-winning Crimson Tide coach. In the first two matches, the Rebels showed light at times but were ultimately defeated by a more talented Alabama roster.
Last season, on the other hand, Ole Miss went toe-to-toe with Alabama and had an opportunity to take down one of college football’s most historic juggernauts. The Rebels trailed the Crimson Tide 30-24 late in the fourth quarter.
All-American running back Quinshon Judkins moved the offense from the 25-yard line down to the red zone with the game on the line. Four unsuccessful plays later, Ole Miss found itself on the losing side of the scoreboard.
Kiffin is well aware of the challenge of competing against Saban on his home turf. Saban boasts an impressive 103-9 record when playing in Bryant-Denny Stadium. While the legendary coach’s record may appear intimidating, this year’s Alabama team lacks a component that plagued Ole Miss in the past two matches — current Carolina Panthers starting quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young.
Young’s departure for the NFL gives Kiffin a sense of relief and a greater ray of hope that this may well be the year for him to accomplish the milestone of beating Saban.
“It’s good to know Bryce won’t be there. That is very positive,” Kiffin said. “This is one of the best teams — the best team in the past 15 years and one of the hardest places to play.”
Earlier this week, Saban confirmed that Jalen Milroe will get the nod as Alabama’s starting signal caller against the Rebels. Milroe has thrown for 449 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions thus far in the 2023 campaign. He has also rushed for 92 yards and two touchdowns.
The redshirt sophomore will be challenged by a defense led by a familiar face in Pete Golding, who made the jump to Oxford after four seasons under Saban. Golding is tasked with having his unit ready to face the dual-threat abilities of Milroe.
Kiffin, who is touted as one of college football’s best offensive minds, is known to look to his star playmakers on big occassions. Quarterback Jaxson Dart, following a strong performance versus Georgia Tech, has emerged as a team leader with a chip on his shoulder.
Early struggles aside, Judkins will be given the ball and plenty of opportunities to remind the college football world of his capabilities. Kiffin has made it clear that he will not abandon the run game this season.
The Rebels have been plagued by injuries from the start of the season, with three key pieces having been mostly unavailable in the first three weeks. Nonetheless, there is optimism that the Ole Miss injury bug may have been squashed by the time the team rolls into Tuscaloosa.
Throughout his tenure at Ole Miss, Kiffin has consistently given little to no information regarding player injuries. However, sources have confirmed to SuperTalk Mississippi News that wide receiver Tre Harris, who had scored five touchdowns on the season before going down in the first quarter of the Tulane game with an unspecified leg injury, has practiced this week and is expected to get playing time on Saturday.
Wide receiver Zakhari Franklin and tight end Caden Priekstorn are also reported to have spent time on the field during the practices leading up to thi Saturday. Both transfer players suffered preseason injuries but are anticipated to see the field versus the Crimson Tide.
Although Alabama is viewed as one of the most prestigious programs in the sport — and for good reason — the Crimson Tide has shown chinks in the armor. For the first time in Saban’s historic 17 years with the program, his team suffered a double-digit home loss, falling to No. 3 Texas 34-24 in week two.
If there is any time for Kiffin to exploit a rare weakness in his former boss’s product, the iron is hot and ready to be struck this weekend.
Kickoff for Ole Miss and Alabama is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast nationally on CBS and can be streamed on participating SuperTalk Mississippi stations.