The Alabama football team is going into Saturday’s game with a chip on its shoulder. It hasn’t forgotten last year at Ole Miss, where it lost 23-17.
Alabama’s last offensive play against Ole Miss was an interception. Quarterback Blake Sims tried to throw a 40-yard touchdown pass to O.J. Howard, but it was intercepted. Seconds later the game was over.
“That play was probably one of the biggest plays that’s ever happened to me in my career – a big, important play in a good way,” Howard said. “It allowed me to become a better player of the game and to learn how to shake things off and move on to the next play.”
Once the game was over, Ole Miss fans rushed the field. Defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson said Alabama was still in the process of getting off the field when it happened.
“It’s not a good feeling,” he said. “It makes you wish you had done almost [every]thing different in the game.”
Running back Kenyan Drake’s season-ending injury happened during that game. Howard said that was a devastating injury and a tough moment for Kenyan, but he’s an experienced player – a more veteran guy – who will be ready to play this game, along with his teammates.
This time around, Alabama wants a different outcome.
“The intensity is very high at practice,” Howard said. “Like I said, we haven’t forgotten that they beat us last year, so we’re not going to put that to the side.”
Tomlinson said the defense is focusing on being able to affect the quarterback as a front and playing the counters correctly. Earlier in a press conference, coach Nick Saban said Alabama needs to limit the amount of plays it allows Ole Miss, specifically any big plays.
“I think the pass rush is one of the things we have to execute the best,” Tomlinson said. “We know they have an offense that can put up points and make big plays. As a front, we have to affect the quarterback as much as we can to limit those plays.”
Tomlinson has a ticking clock in his head, counting down the time he has to get to the quarterback. He said the defensive line practices three seconds.
When he’s not going for a sack right away, he’s watching the quarterback, ready to knock down a pass.
“I’m just trying to get my hands up to affect the quarterback any way I can,” Tomlinson said. “Pretty much every quarterback, when he takes his hand off the ball, he’s getting ready to release it.”
After looking at tapes, Tomlinson said Ole Miss runs a similar – pretty much the same – offense as it did last year. Therefore, Alabama has watched last year’s tape a lot and is going in more prepared this time around.
The game doesn’t start until 8:15 p.m. though. Waiting around for the game to start gets both Howard and Tomlinson anxious. They have to remember not to waste any of their energy.
Tomlinson said he tries to relax by listening to music or watching other football games. He also likes to watch anything that comes on Cartoon Network.
“I may watch cartoons every now and again throughout the day since it’s a late game, get my mind off it a little bit, so I won’t be too nervous, jittery but the time the game gets here,” Tomlinson said.
However, those same nerves prevent him from napping to relax.
Unlike his teammate, Howard can’t sit still so before every game, he goes and visits with his family.
“It lets me clear my mind from football,” he said. “It lets me know my meaning of why I play the game.”
Then, before they know it, it’s game time.