The Rebels are improved on defense, but there is no question that Ole Miss has ridden the passing of junior sensation Eli Manning to prominence. "We're going to have to somehow slow down their quarterback, while also defending the running game," Franchione said. "Ole Miss is a good football team. Nationally ranked, on a roll, good offense, great quarterback. They're playing with a lot of energy. They're 5-1."
"We're fortunate to have them at our place for Homecoming."
Ole Miss is averaging more than 400 yards of offense and more than 35 points per game. Current Bama Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush used to coach the Rebel defense, and he's very familiar with the Manning family and what they've meant to Ole Miss. "Eli has great knowledge and understanding of football, and that comes from his father and his brothers," Torbush said. "Archie (Manning, Eli's father) was not only a great quarterback, but I thought he was one of the smartest guys I've been around."
Deceptively strong, Manning combines very good athleticism with an uncanny feel for the game. "He has as much wisdom and understanding of the game as I've seen," Torbush said. "When you combine that with his athleticism and arm strength, that sets him apart from a lot of people his age."
In just his second season as starter, Manning is throwing for 267 yards per game. And his touchdowns-to-interception ratio of 12:3 is quite impressive. "Eli has a tremendous amount of athletic ability throwing the football," Torbush explained. "He throws the ball into places that a lot of guys wouldn't. If you look you think they're covered, but then a second later they break open and there is the ball on the money."
"You're not going to fool him very much," Franchione added. "Manning understands football. He understands defenses. He knows where the ball needs to go. He won't let you sack him much. He'll throw it away. He'll move out of the pocket and throw it away. He's not going to put his football team in 2nd and 17, 3rd and 12 very often."
In the Rebel's six games this season, Manning has only been sacked three times. "He does a great job avoiding sacks," Torbush said. "He understands field position, and he's got a quick release. He knows where that five-yard area is and when he gets outside of the tackle box you can go ahead and mark it up, because you're not going to get a sack out of him. He's going to throw it out of bounds.
"And their offensive line has done a great job of protecting."
When Ole Miss defeated Alabama last season, Manning was the key, throwing for 335 yards on 22-of-41 passing. "You don't go into the game thinking you're going to slow down or stop Eli Manning," Franchione explained. "You go in there hoping you make one more play than Eli Manning does. He's going to make some plays."
Manning certainly benefits from a receiving corps that is both talented and deep. Torbush commented, "His receivers exude confidence. They have had very few drops. All of them block pretty well. They've got good quickness and they catch the ball well."
Five different athletes have caught 10 or more balls for the Rebels, led by Alabama native Bill Flowers and Tide killer Chris Collins, who hauled in eight passes for 110 yards in last year's game. "They've got five or six that they rotate in," Torbush said. "The Collins kid is a proven player. He hurt us real bad last year. The Flowers kid from here in Birmingham has developed into a player."
But the Rebel attack doesn't end with Manning's arm. Ole Miss is also averaging more than 133 yards rushing per game. "As much as Ole Miss throws the ball, they still believe in the run," Torbush said. "They want a balanced attack. They know if they can run the ball then their passing game will be more successful."
Deuce McAllister and Joe Gunn are now gone, so Ole Miss is not as talented at tailback as they have been in the past. It's been tailback-by-committee so far this season, with Robert Williams, Ronald McClendon and Vashon Pearson sharing the carries.
"I think their running backs are solid," Torbush said. "They've got three that they rotate. Williams has been hurt, but he's back. All of them are tough kids."