Ole Miss beat Alabama at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in 2014 and then did the improbable in 2015 when the Rebels went into Tuscaloosa and put on an offensive show that Ole Miss fans will talk about for a long time. That's why the Crimson-Tide have revenge on their minds entering Saturday's matchup. According to reports from Tuscaloosa, Alabama put up pictures of Ole Miss players in their weight room as motivation for Saturday's game.
Fun fact: The Alabama weight room has pictures of Ole Miss players taped on machines.— Terrin Waack (@terrinvictoria) September 12, 2016
Ole Miss is just as excited. If the Rebels win on Saturday they will become the first SEC team to beat Nick Saban in three straight seasons.
Alabama's offense so far has been led by true freshman QB Jalen Hurts. Hurts has completed 61 percent of his passes, has four passing and two rushing TDs on the year. While he is still technically competing with redshirt freshman Blake Barnett for the starting QB job, Hurts has taken most of the snaps at QB this season and is in the driver's seat for the starting job. Hurts has a big arm but he is also very mobile.
Alabama has a mix of power and speed at RB with sophomores Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris, but the Tide haven't been as dominant on the ground as they have in the past. Outside of Harris' 138 yards against USC, Alabama is currently averaging a little over three yards per carry. Losing Heisman trophy winner Derrick Henry is partly the reason, but the Tide have always produced the next great back and continued to pound the ball on opposing defenses. The culprit seems to be some inexperience on the offensive line. Alabama has an elite left tackle in junior Cam Robinson, who has 31 career starts, but others on the line are still finding their way. Tide left guard Lester Cotton and right guard Jonah Williams have only two career starts, while center Bradley Bozeman has only four. Alabama has been rotating sophomore Ross Pierschbacher and senior Alphonse Taylor at right guard. Pierschbacher started in the Tide's season opener against USC while Taylor was serving a one-game suspension. Pierschbacher started again in week two against Western-Kentucky but Taylor ended up taking a majority of the snaps. Saban announced this week that Alabama would consider shuffling the line around to be better prepared for the Ole Miss defensive line but the specific changes are unknown.
The Tide have speedy and athletic WR's that will look to give Ole Miss' young secondary fits. Junior ArDarius Stewart leads the corps with 203 yards and three TDs. Sophomore Calvin Ridley and senior Gehrig Dieter have also been favorite targets of Hurts. Alabama has one of the top tight ends in the country in senior O.J. Howard. While he only has five receptions on the season so far, Howard's big game could come against Ole Miss this weekend. Howard's size and athleticism makes him a matchup problem against Ole Miss' linebackers and safeties.
This year's defense for Alabama could end up being one of the best under Saban. The Tide have a great mix of size and speed that can terrorize opposing offenses. Their front is lined with physical pass rushers in Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams. Senior Reuben Foster leads a group of speedy and hard-hitting linebackers. The Tide secondary is littered with talented DBs. Sophomore CBs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey can play one-on-one against any WR in the country, while safeties Eddie Jackson and Ronnie Harrison have elite speed to move from the line scrimmage to the defensive backfield in a matter of seconds. The defense has been retooled to defend against fast-paced spread offenses like Ole Miss.'
Keys To Victory
- Establish a strong run game
- Win the turnover battle
- Get to Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly early and often
Ole Miss' offense will have a tough challenge in playing balanced against Alabama. The Tide defense is known for using it's speed and physicality in stopping the run. If Ole Miss relies too much on QB Chad Kelly and its passing game, Alabama will key in on Kelly and stop Ole Miss' offense from moving the ball. The Rebels are going to need a strong push from their linemen to get anywhere from three to four yards a carry. They just need some form of a run game to continue to throw the ball against the Tide. If the Rebels can stop themselves from becoming predictable, Kelly can use his big arm to target his elite WR's.
Even with the loss of true freshman WR D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss has solid options in the receiving game. While Quincy Adeboyejo, Damore'ea Stringfellow, DaMarkus Lodge, Van Jefferson and A.J. Brown will all most likely have a reception, tight end Evan Engram will be the one to watch in this game. He has been one of Chad Kelly's top targets this season and will be targeted for some quick passes against the Tide.
Ole Miss defensive line will need to play one of its best games of the season if it wants to beat Alabama. The Rebels have strength and speed up front and may be able to take advantage of the inexperience on the Tide offensive line. Marquis Haynes, Fadol Brown and John Youngblood will provide a pass rush from the outside, but it's the interior linemen that will most likely have the biggest impact. Ole Miss needs to get strong play out of tackles Isaac Gross, Breeland Speaks, Benito Jones and D.J. Jones if it wants to stop Alabama from running the ball. If the Rebels defense can limit Alabama's run game, they can focus on true freshman QB Jalen Hurts who will be in his first ever SEC road game. Flustering him will be a big boost in Ole Miss' quest for a third straight win over Alabama.
This matchup will be a good gauge on how well Ole Miss' linebackers and defensive backs adjusted to their second half blunders against Florida State in week one. The LB's need to focus on Alabama TE O.J. Howard while the DB's need to focus on more aggressive coverage against the Tide's WR's. If Alabama wins this game, it'll be by exploiting Ole Miss' young secondary.
Keys To Victory
- Run the football
- Pressure Alabama QB Jalen Hurts
- Look out for Alabama TE O.J. Howard
Analysis and Prediction
Alabama is a little similar to Ole Miss' week one opponent, Florida State. The Tide have a young athletic QB on offense, capable RBs, a strong front seven and elite DBs. This game will be a big indicator on how much Ole Miss’ young players learned from the week one loss to the Seminoles. Florida State QB Deondre Francois torched Ole Miss’ secondary in the second half, and we’ll get to see this week what adjustments Ole Miss made to defend against the pass.
Like their first quarter against Florida State, the Rebels will come out with their up-tempo offense and attack Alabama's secondary. Ole Miss will score early but without a run game, the Rebels won't be able to sustain their offensive success. Ole Miss is going to need to rely on Kelly to move the ball with his feet along with three to four yards a carry from RB Akeem Judd.
Alabama will take advantage of Ole Miss’ secondary and score early in this one. If the Rebels’ offense doesn’t get shut down, this game will turn into another shootout, but in the end, Alabama's offense will get a few more scores to beat Ole Miss 45-37.