A Closer Look at Alabama

Mike Herndon of AL.com covers Alabama football. Here are five questions the Ole Miss Spirit asked Herndon as this weekend’s game with Ole Miss and Alabama approaches.

* Spirit: This is obviously a big game between two nationally ranked teams. What are people in Alabama saying about it?

Mike: “People in Alabama are still excited about the game against Florida and the showing of the offense. There’s still a lot of buzz around that with 600 and something total yards. Even for a program as successful as Alabama, with traditionally a more conservative offense, and to see them light it up like that really has captured people’s imagination. But people know this is big game (with Ole Miss) and this is also a tougher opponent. Ole Miss, particularly on defense, has been impressive to me. This will be an interesting matchup to watch.”

* Spirit: Are there any surprises from the Alabama offense so far? There appear to be some new wrinkles.

Mike: “I don’t know that anyone really expected them to be as vertical of an offense as they’ve been with Blake Sims as quarterback. It wasn’t something he had showed a lot of up until the Florida game. This year most of his throws were short. It allowed receivers like Amari Cooper to create after the catch. But he really showed a new dimension against Florida and caught them in some busted coverages that got them going early. They were throwing downfield. Sims showed some real accuracy on the deep ball. That was a dimension that we really hadn’t seen before, and that got some people excited.”

* Spirit: Alabama is ranked No. 1 in the nation. Are there any concerns for this team?

Mike: “Cornerback is an ongoing concern. Tony Brown has played a lot lately, the five-star freshman. Eddie Jackson is still recovering from injury. Cyrus Jones has been pretty solid on one side. That other side’s been kind of a revolving door of players. West Virginia victimized Bradley Sylve in the opener. But they’ve been better since then. I don’t think Florida had much of a chance to establish anything there. (Gator quarterback Jeff) Driskel just played terribly in that game. But that has been a concern this year, and something Ole Miss with their receivers could look to attack. And the offensive line has been an ongoing thing. It’s been called a work in progress. The running game has been a lot of off tackle and outside. The run game in the interior is something that’s developing.”

* Spirit: What are some of your thoughts heading into the game?

Mike: “I think certainly Bo Wallace has to protect the football, but we can say that every week. It goes double here, because if they turn the football over, Alabama is going to make them pay. How they match up up front will be pivotal. If Alabama can establish the run against them, it’s going to be a long day. The defensive guys up front have to at least hold the line of scrimmage against that run game. Obviously on the edge you have to account for Amari Cooper. Nobody has been able to do it so far. I’ve been real impressed with Ole Miss’ secondary play, particularly the way the secondary supports the run. I don’t know if there’s a corner alive that can keep (Cooper) completely locked down. They have to at least try to limit him.”

* Spirit: You voted Alabama No. 1 in the AP poll this week. What are your thoughts on that?

Mike: “Really the big question I had about Alabama coming into this season was answered against Florida. I was one of those that questioned whether they had a downfield passing game with Blake Sims at quarterback. That’s been answered. If they can put up points like that, a Nick Saban defense is going to make them awfully, awfully tough to beat. Everybody in the top five or six is really close in my mind. I had Texas A&M on the top of my ballot until this week. Certainly I thought their defense left a lot to be desired against Arkansas and moved them down a little bit. It’s going to be interesting all the way through to watch these teams. It’s been said all seven in the (SEC) West could make a case to be ranked in the top 25. With the way Arkansas played (last weekend against Texas A&M) that’s possibly true.”

The Ole Miss Spirit also has its take on things. Here are some points from the staff.

* What one negative area must Ole Miss stay away from if it is to win the game?

“Eliminate turnovers. After two excellent games against Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Lafayette, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace wasn’t as effective as he had been. As had happened in the first half of the season opener against Boise State when he threw three interceptions, Wallace and the offense struggled to keep drives alive against Memphis as turnovers intervened. Wallace threw two interceptions against the Tigers. Ole Miss also had two lost fumbles, one of them by Wallace and another on a punt reception by Markell Pack which Memphis recovered. Four turnovers against Alabama and it could be a long day for the Rebels.”

* Ole Miss’ rushing attack appears to be slowly showing improvement.

“The Rebels’ running attack hasn’t been as strong as most other aspects of its game. Although overall the Ole Miss offense ranks fourth in the Southeastern Conference currently, the Rebels have more than twice as many passing yards (1,342) as rushing yards (643). And sitting on the other side of the ball from that Rebel offense is an Alabama defense second in the SEC only to that of the Rebels through four games. The Crimson Tide has only allowed 248 total yards rushing for its collective four opponents to date – West Virginia, Florida Atlantic, Southern Mississippi, and Florida. The Rebel offensive line needs to have its best game to date for the running game to have a chance to be better than it has been."

* The Rebel passing game has been a strength of the offense. But Ole Miss has found other ways to also score some points this season.

“Fourteen different players have caught passes for the Rebels this season, totaling those 1,342 yards as well as accounting for 11 of the Rebels’ 21 touchdowns. Eight of the TDs have come on the ground while two were interceptions returned for scores by Senquez Golson and Cliff Coleman. Receiving targets like Laquon Treadwell (20 receptions, three touchdowns), Vince Sanders (18 receptions, two touchdowns), and Cody Core (17 receptions, four touchdowns) are threats to score on any play. The Alabama defense is allowing 188.2 yards per game through the air. If Wallace is on and has time, the Rebels could move the football effectively in the contest.”

* Nick Saban appears to not have been a fan of the no-huddle, fast-paced style of play on offense in the past. This year he’s implemented some new wrinkles by way of adding Lane Kiffin to coordinate his team’s offense. Can Ole Miss keep the Alabama defense off balance with a style of play or pace of play that it likes to run?

“Saban pointed out in his press conference Monday that all the teams Alabama had played so far used some form of a fast-paced offense. The Crimson Tide defenders were able to handle those with relative ease. But he also said this Ole Miss team is the best his troops have faced so far this season – especially defensively. The Crimson Tide will be tested by a veteran quarterback in Bo Wallace and as talented a receiving corps as there is in the Southeastern Conference. Will the Rebels be able to play as fast as they want to on offense? And will the Alabama defense be able to stop them when they do put the ball in play? There was much talk about these type things in the last couple of offseasons. In last year’s game, however, Alabama was able to contain Ole Miss all night in a 25-0 Crimson Tide victory.”

* Vaught-Hemingway Stadium will be at fever pitch Saturday afternoon. ESPN Game Day is in town, and that only adds to the excitement and anticipation of the event. Will a sold-out Vaught-Hemingway filled with mostly Ole Miss fans be able to rattle Alabama and its quarterback, Blake Sims?

“That’s a question only time will tell. The stadium will be rocking for sure with 62,000 fans in attendance. But as many as 8,000 of those will likely be Alabama fans. Rebel Nation will do all it can to help its team win the game. If Alabama turns the football over and the Rebels hang around until deep in the fourth quarter, then it’s anybody’s game. But logically Ole Miss is supposed to be around for the duration of this one. After all, these are two of the SEC’s top teams, and Ole Miss is at home. Can the Rebels beat Alabama for the first time since 2003? Stay tuned.”

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