Ole Miss game preview

In the midst of a dismal 2000 campaign, the only game where the Crimson Tide rolled over its opponent was the contest versus Ole Miss in Bryant-Denny Stadium. However, Rebel Coach David Cutcliffe isn't pointing at this Saturday's game as a place for revenge.

In fact, he is trying to get his Rebels to forget the past and play for the future. "I am not going to harp on the past, on any game or any part of the series," Cutcliffe said. "I think our focus is on this year, on playing a fine football team. We are going to have to play real well to win. I think our focus needs to remain on Ole Miss and how much we can improve. Then we have to just manage to play as well as we can possibly play. At this point we need to play our best game."

In order to play that season-best game, the Rebels will be forced to overcome several injuries that have hampered their progress thus far. Running back Robert Williams will more than likely not be available for this week's game, leaving the duties to Joe Gunn and Charles Stackhouse, who is listed as a fullback.

Cutcliffe credits Dennis Franchione with developing a multiple offense for Alabama.

The Rebel defensive backfield is also slightly weakened by hip injuries to Syniker Taylor and Matt Grier. Cutcliffe stated Monday that although both would be limited in practice, he expects both to play against Alabama on Saturday.

In addition to his team's injury woes, Coach Cutcliffe also has to be concerned with fielding a defense to slow down the surging Tide offensive attack. The Alabama offense, Cutcliffe states, is strengthened by its multiplicity.

"They do a lot of things and that list is growing. They give you a lot of formations and a lot of styles of plays. They have a lot of weapons, so they can come out and do a lot of different things. They have great weapons at wide receiver and quarterback, but they have several good running backs, and their offensive line has really played better over the last two weeks which allows you to do so many more things. If they (the offensive line) can handle it, then their skill people certainly can."

Although it was Andrew Zow that led the Tide to victory over the Rebels last season, Coach Cutcliffe is still very wary of the danger presented with Tyler Watts behind center. "(Watts) is very big, fast and strong -- extremely strong. He is flexible. He throws the football well and is making good decisions and managing their offense. I thought he was an outstanding football player coming out of high school, so I am not surprised he is playing as well as he is."

In order to limit the effectiveness of Watts, the Rebels will prepare this week to slow down Alabama's option attack. Even though shutting down the option wouldn't cripple the Tide offense, it would go a long way toward making Bama more predictable.

Familiar with Tyler Watts from when he recruited him at Tennessee, Cutcliffe says he always knew Watts was an outstanding quarterback.

Stopping the option, however, is neither easy nor absolute; "Hopefully we will find a way to slow it (the option) down. That takes work. I think it is execution. Any play that is a sound solid football play that is executed by good athletes is hard to stop. That is what they are doing. They are blocking well, they are getting better up front. That is one of the biggest differences we have seen is how much better they have played up front. Their execution is outstanding."

"People run different styles of option, and you have to prepare yourself for it. If a team can execute all those things, as Alabama is doing, it's very difficult to defend."

Offensively, the Rebels will look to sophomore quarterback Eli Manning to test the Tide secondary on Saturday. Alabama's defensive backfield has had some trouble against teams that have aired it out this year, and the Rebels will attempt to use this as an advantage over the Tide's defensive speed and physicality.

Although this is Manning's first season as a starter, Cutcliffe is quick to point out that the young man has more going for him than just his bloodlines. "Eli is a very prepared quarterback. He is a young quarterback. He is going to gain experience each week. He is a very well prepared quarterback, but he has been in this system long enough that we are doing most of the things we want to do in this system. He is ready to handle anything we throw at him from a mental standpoint."

Earlier in his career, Carl Torbush was defensive coordinator at Ole Miss.

For the Crimson Tide to walk away from Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium this Saturday with a victory, they will have to find a way to slow down Manning and his stable of receivers. On the flip side, the Tide will have to continue to build offensive momentum against a defense that is regarded to be slightly weaker than some others in the conference. If these goals can be accomplished, the Crimson Tide should be able to pull out a victory from the Rebels that would make General Grant himself proud.

Questions and answers with Coach Cutcliffe:

What about Alabama? They are playing as well as anybody right now. They are very gifted on offense, defense and in the kicking game. Their offense, over the last two weeks, has kind of come into its own. They have a lot of weapons. Defensively they are a fast football team. They are big and physical and they are continuing to play extremely well on defense. The game will be a big challenge for us."

Is this your biggest challenge this year? "I think this is the best opponent we have played to this point. They lead the league in rushing and run the football so many different ways they can cause a lot of problems"

What do Coach Franchione and Carl Torbush bring to Alabama's system? "It is very evident that they are extremely well coached on both sides of the ball. Carl Torbush is an outstanding defensive football coach. We know a lot about him in this league, especially Ole Miss fans. They do a variety of things as well. You see a very multiple defensive scheme as well."

Has your defense made progress? "We really have some concerns right now. We have got to do a better job of stopping the run. We have to be more consistent. We are still giving up too many big plays at critical times. We are facing our biggest challenge this week, so certainly our players and our staff should be eager to get on the practice field. We have a lot of work to do."

Cutcliffe acknowledges that Ole Miss will be at a size disadvantage in attempting to stop the Bama running game.

Did you change much about your offense with the loss of Deuce McAllister and the addition of a young QB? "We are a little different offensively. We are throwing the football more. When you lose a back the caliber of Deuce you lose a lot. A lot of people are touching the ball in our offense and that is by design. We are not having to lean on one player quite as much."

What is the biggest problem in stopping the run? "I do not think it is size alone. Sometimes the bigger, physical guy wins the battle. It takes 11 people doing the right things. The first and most difficult task is to play the block. When you shed the block you still have to make a tackle. We are what size we are. We know that going in. That is a constant, we have to find a way to battle through that and be successful."

When you ended up not playing college football, did you worry that it would make it more difficult for you to become a head coach? "It never really bothered me. I learned the game and had a feel for the game and felt good about what I was going to do."

What does (defensive coordinator) Don Lindsey bring to this team? "Besides being creative, he's a very experienced football coach. That's what experience teaches us - how to overcome and adjust to problems and face different circumstances. That's very important at a time where we're undermanned somewhat, from a personnel standpoint."

Have you just accepted that the SEC West is going to come down to the final week every year? "That's what we've seen. History would tell us that. But I'm not looking past this week We're focusing on doing our best against Alabama. But I think the West will be very interesting always right down until the end. It's a very balanced division."


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