Looking for revenge: Alabama returns to Oxford

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CW File

Tyler Waldrep

Alabama tight end O.J. Howard sprinted 32 yards toward the Ole Miss end zone. What awaited him there was a moment Howard would never forget.

Instead of celebrating the victory after catching the tying score, Howard found himself trying to tackle Ole Miss defensive back Senquez Golson and prevent him from completing the interception.

“It was bad. It was a disappointing feeling,” Howard said. “I was part of the last play of the game, so it was pretty bad on my part too. It was just a bad experience.”

Moments later, the home crowd in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium erupted. Grown men didn’t wait for the 23-17 Ole Miss victory to become official before leaping on each others’ shoulders in celebration.

That victory in 2014 was the first time Ole Miss defeated in Alabama since 2003.

Alabama didn’t stick around in Oxford, Mississippi, long enough to see the goal posts tumble down. The players avoided seeing a dozen young fans parade a piece of the post through traffic hours later either, but what they did see stuck with them.

“I think we were all out there [when the Ole Miss fans rushed the field],” Howard said. “It happened so fast that we didn’t have time to leave.”

The Crimson Tide waited almost an entire year to meet the Rebels on the field again, and Alabama wanted to set everything straight in 2015.

Instead, the Crimson Tide turned the ball over five times and made history when it lost to the Rebels for the first time ever in back-to-back meetings.

“I feel like we put too much pressure, too much emphasis on revenge and all that stuff,” defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said.

Separating the past from the present Saturday is going to be a challenge for a team that has spent the last two offseasons dwelling on the mistakes that cost the Crimson Tide the victory over the Rebels, twice.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said he doesn’t use revenge as motivation, but these aren’t normal circumstances for the Crimson Tide. In fact, LSU is the only program other than the Rebels to beat Saban’s Alabama teams in consecutive season (2010 and 2011).

“There will be plenty of emotion for the game, I think, being an SEC game, being a division game, being a team that we’ve struggled against the last couple of years,” Saban said. “… Emotion doesn’t last in the game.”

Saban and his team might not want to use the R-word when discussing this weekend, but there’s plenty of upperclassmen on the team who remember watching the fans storm the field. 

Even more remember the loss last season.

“Coach Saban said it [on Wednesday], ‘It’s about earning the respect back from this team,'” defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “Everybody else around the country respects us. This team they’re the only team that beat us. …You know it’s about going out there and beating them all around the field.”