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Alabama wants to stop slide against Ole Miss, but 'revenge' a tricky word

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Minkah Fitzpatrick was starting only the second game of his career when Ole Miss came to town last September. When Chad Kelly threw that crazy touchdown pass -- you know, the one that caromed into the waiting arms of Quincy Adeboyejo -- it was Fitzpatrick who was the guilty party.

Alabama's then-true freshman nickel back wasn't looking for the ball when it bounced off his helmet. He instantly realized what was happening and raced down the field chasing Adeboyejo but was too late. Ole Miss took a two-touchdown lead midway through the third quarter and held on to win 43-37.

Fitzpatrick remembers the game well. And even if he didn't, the social media messages he has received since then have made sure it never wanders far from his thoughts.

"Stuff happens," he said, looking back on it.

And now?

"We ready," he said. "We're excited to play them. We're coming with a chip on our shoulder."

Fitzpatrick was only there for the second of Alabama's back-to-back losses to Ole Miss, but he's part of the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide's revenge tour now. He didn't see Bo Wallace lead the Rebels down the field for the game-winning score in 2014, didn’t watch Blake Sims' game-clinching interception, didn't look on as the goal posts were carried out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. But he, like everyone else at Alabama who has to carry the weight of consecutive losses to an SEC West rival, wants to return to Oxford and stop the slide before it reaches three in a row.

As Alabama's only two regular season losses the past two seasons, of course, Ole Miss sticks with them, said senior tight end O.J. Howard. He was the one Sims was targeting on that pivotal interception two years ago. He remembers fans rushing the field shortly thereafter. Like many of his teammates, he didn't have time to get out of the way.

"It was bad," he said. "It was a disappointing feeling. 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."

Given the way their last two meetings with Ole Miss have gone, it would be tempting for Alabama's players to enter Saturday's game in Oxford with more than just a chip on their shoulder. A boulder might feel more appropriate. But the word out of Tuscaloosa this week has been more subdued. The game means more, of course, but there's a limit to the hype. And as you might expect, that focus comes from the top and coach Nick Saban.

Revenge as a "motivating factor" isn't Saban's cup of tea. There are just too many emotions that go into that.

"Creating a bunch of anxiety with players is not the best way to go when it comes to being able to perform well," Saban said. "I think that we were pretty anxious in the game last year, and it sure didn't help us play very well."

According to senior defensive end Jonathan Allen, Alabama felt the pressure last season. There was "too much emphasis on revenge and all that stuff," he said. The result: A 5-0 turnover deficit.

While some might look at the tipped pass touchdown by Kelly and say the loss was a fluke, Allen said there was nothing fluky about it.

"I feel like we messed it up ourselves," he said. "We made too many mental errors that we couldn't overcome."

Senior safety Eddie Jackson admitted that there's "some fuel to the fire there" with Ole Miss, but looking back on what happened in the past wasn't something he was interested in.

"I just feel like everyone needs to be more focused for this game and this week," he said.

And, frankly, after a sloppy win over Western Kentucky last week, looking back might not be an option.

If Saban's "ass-chewing" of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin late in that game, and the subsequent anger he exhibited during the postgame news conference showed us anything, it's that he doesn't believe this team is where it needs to be right now. Coupled with the prospect of taking a true freshman quarterback into his first real road game, there's more than enough to work on.

Alabama's plate is full. There are plenty of bad memories from the last two games against Ole Miss, but not a lot of room left for revenge.