Burning Questions: Alabama

No. 21 Ole Miss trips to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for a meeting with top-ranked Alabama today at 5:30 p.m. CT To preview, publisher Chuck Rounsaville answers five burning questions.

Alabama is at its usual lofty spot of number one in the nation. The Crimson Tide has few weaknesses, but what is the number one concern of the Ole Miss defensive staff?

Obviously, Ole Miss' number one defensive concern is trying to stop the vaunted Alabama run game with sophomore T.J. Yeldon, 250-pound junior bruiser Jalston Fowler and sophomore speedster Kenyan Drake running behind another typical Bama offensive line. Everything the Tide does on offense is determined by, and fed by, the run game. If they are running the ball effectively, defenses are forced to put an extra man in the box, which opens up opportunities for Alabama's play-action package. If the Rebels can slow down the Tide run game with six or seven in the box, and keep their numbers in the secondary, the odds are more in the Rebs' favor. If the Rebels are forced to go eight in the box, the play-action pass is much more effective. Bottom line: Stop the run and see what happens.

Alabama's defense has long been regarded as the gold standard among college defensive units, from a talent and coaching standpoint. What is the main concern of the Ole Miss offensive coaches heading into the game?

Alabama Coach Nick Saban and Tide Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart have engineered one of the most complex defenses in college football. They use as many different fronts, different coverages and different pressure packages as anyone in the country. Plus, they are really good at coming up with something "new" for each opponent, especially on third downs.

Nick Saban

The key for the Rebels will be recognition and quick reaction. Ole Miss will have to play extremely smart on offense and be quick to adjust to any new twists Saban and Smart throw their way. While Alabama's defense is known for being physical, what is sometimes lost in the shuffle is that they are very cerebral as well. The Rebels will have to match not only brawn but wits with the Tide step for step.

What weapon will Alabama have at its disposal that the Rebels will have to duplicate if they expect to succeed?

Composure. Rarely do you see an Alabama team under Saban lose its composure. The Crimson Tide are businesslike, calm and collected, nine times out of 10, or more. Alabama does not get rattled often and for the Rebels to be successful, they will have to match that composure. Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze has successfully, to this point, drilled a one-play-at-a-time mentality into the Rebs' arsenal. Forget the last play and move on. That will be imperative against the Tide Saturday because if you're waiting on the Tide to get discombobulated, you could be in for a long wait. Ole Miss won the Vanderbilt and Texas games because the Rebels followed that blueprint and were composed. That will have to continue.

What is another factor that is imperative to have any kind of success against Alabama in Tuscaloosa?

Alabama has "made a living" out of not making big blunders. Winning the turnover battle will be huge in this contest. That is the case in almost every game, but it seems even more critical when facing the Tide. Alabama feeds off of turnovers and gorges itself when opponents try to force the issue and make turnovers. One only has to look back at last year's game to see proof of that. Turnovers ignite the Alabama crowd and spark the Crimson Tide offense for, normally, a quick strike, which further frenzies their crowd. The Rebels, led by QB Bo Wallace, who has played really "clean" football this year, have been very good in not turning the ball over through three games. That must continue.

What is something that is of dire importance but may not be talked about a lot leading into the contest?

Special teams. Alabama killed whatever chance the Rebels had last year with a kickoff return for a touchdown that put the Crimson Tide fans in a frenzy and left the Rebels reeling just long enough for the Alabama to take control of the game. The Rebels have been playing very well on special teams to this point as well. These units and how they play will go a long way in determining the final outcome. That is nothing new, but against Alabama, who has always fielded good special teams units because its depth is so good, it is crucial and critical.

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