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Bolden, three others suspended for game with No. 2 Alabama

Petre Thomas/The Daily Mississippian

The Ole Miss Rebels (2-3, 0-2 SEC) will face their toughest opponent to date when the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0 SEC) rolls into Oxford this Saturday. 

Ole Miss will do so without senior running back Brandon Bolden, junior center A.J. Hawkins, senior offensive guard Alex Washington and sophomore wide receiver Philander Moore, who will all serve one-game suspensions for a violation of team rules, head coach Houston Nutt said Thursday.

Bolden, who has been nursing an ankle injury since the season opener against BYU, is the team’s second leading rusher with 105 yards and two touchdowns this season. 

Hawkins has started all five games at center, Washington started at left guard in the 38-28 win over Fresno State and Moore has made four catches for two yards in limited action this season.

The Rebels have not beaten the Crimson Tide since Eli Manning’s senior season in 2003 and have won only nine games in the all-time series. This year’s Alabama is no different.

“When we turned on the film, like we had been doing this past week, you’re looking at one of the best teams in the country,” Nutt said. 

“Defensively, there have been very few teams that have been able to move the ball against Alabama. They fly around to the ball, create problems and cause turnovers.

“We are excited about this opportunity.”

And that is where it all starts with Alabama under head coach Nick Saban – the defense. The unit has been arguably the best in the nation, and many expect them to be considered among the best ever come season’s end. The Crimson Tide’s rush defense is the best in the nation, having only given up less than 40 yards per game on the ground. Overall, Alabama ranks first in the country in scoring defense (7 points per game) and ranks third in the country in total defense (191.33 yards per game).

Ole Miss offensive coordinator David Lee knows his guys will need to have the best game of the year to move the ball and score points against Alabama’s stout defense.

“With these guys, we’re looking at tomorrow’s NFL,” Lee said. “When you look at their defense, they are all over the place. We’ve had two weeks. We’ve had plenty of time to study them.”

However, it will still be hard to get anything going against the Crimson Tide. On the other side of the ball, the Ole Miss defense will need to slow down Alabama’s potent offense.

“They are a very physical offense, and they take care of the football,” Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. “They’re an outstanding coached football team.”

The Rebels will have to shut down junior running back Trent Richardson, an early Heisman Trophy candidate, and make sophomore quarterback A.J. McCarron beat them through the air.

“I think they’ve done an excellent job coaching him to manage the game and take care of the football,” Nix said of McCarron. 

“You saw some turnovers early in the year, but you haven’t seen many since then. He’s a quarterback that understands that the best idea sometimes is to hand the ball off to (Trent Richardson).”

No playmaker is more thought of for Alabama than Richardson, who averages 121.5 rushing yards per game (second in the SEC) and leads the SEC with 11 rushing touchdowns.

“He is strong and physical,” Nix said of Richardson. 

“He runs behind his pads. I think the thing that we keep saying is he takes care of the football. You see how hard he fights for extra yardage. It’s going to be an ultimate challenge for our guys to play physical, wrap up and get 11 guys to the ball.”

For the Rebels to pull the upset Saturday, they will need to play near-flawless football on both sides of the ball and force Alabama into some mistakes of their own.

Kickoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 5 p.m. from Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.