W2W4 (What to Watch For) – Alabama vs Ole Miss

W2W4 – Ole Miss

What kind of dream world are we living in when it turns out the Ole Miss Black Bear Rebels will be the first real test for the Alabama defense this season???  Now, I was dreamin’ when I wrote this, so forgive me if it goes astray.  But, when I woke up this morning, I could have sworn it might actually be a judgment day of sorts for the Alabama defense.  Now, why in the world would I suggest such a thing?  After all, it’s just Ole Miss – “OLE MISS, by damn!” to quote their famous cheer.  Well, Ole Miss has themselves an offense this season, by damn, and a balanced one at that.  Currently the Ole Miss offense ranks third in the conference in total yards and they strike a nice balance between running and throwing the football.  The Rebels’ forte is running the ball and they find themselves ranked #1 (no, this is not a misprint) in the conference by averaging 260 yards rushing per game.  However, they didn’t Freeze out the passing game because they also average a nice little 228 yards per game slinging the pigskin.  Balance!

Besides the “Do your job mantra,” Nick Saban’s other mantra is to first, stop the run, and then take away whatever else the offense does best second.  Thus far this season, no one has even so much as threatened the Tide with any semblance of a running game so shutting down the “everything else” has been so easy a caveman could do it.  Well, that changes this week because these Rebs run the ball so well they should be called the Running Rebs (of the old UNLV basketball fame).  While running the football is the Ole Miss strength, they’ve shown the ability to pass as well, so that is why this week will be a judgment day, of sorts, for the Bama D. 

Historically, Nick Saban has ripped out the spread more than a teenage boy with his daddy’s Playboy so there’s every reason to believe this will be the case once again.  Think about this – Nick Saban’s ability to shut down the spread has forced teams such as Texas, Auburn and Florida to philosophically abandon it in favor of the pro style offense.  That’s right.  Nick Saban doesn’t just stop offenses.  Instead, he simply changes them to be something he’d prefer to stop.  By the way, Nick also has a Black Bearskin rug.  The Black Bear isn’t dead, it’s just afraid to move.

Alabama on Offense

If you saw Texas beat the old piss out of Ole Miss in week 3, then you know, if this were a baseball game, the Alabama offense would be having a fight at the bat rack to see who gets to take the next swing!  Using a pro style attack like Alabama’s, Texas gained six-hundred-seventy-six (676) yards of offense against the running, er, fleeing Rebs.  The big Texas backs were built like Bevo and the tiny bear cub defenders bounced off of them like ping-pong balls bouncing off an M1 tank.  And, while the big backs were galloping their way to 350 yards rushing, the usually inept Texas QB was able to throw for 326 yards against the woeful Ole Miss secondary.  In fact, the collective tackling of the entire unit can summed up as an ole’ (pronounced the way the bull fighters say it) and a miss.  Currently, according to the SEC stats, the Rebs’ defense currently ranks 12th in scoring and 10th in total defense so, evidently, you can pass, run and score on the Rebs at will.  Who wants to bat first??????

Call Me Maybe:  With the current stable of thoroughbred backs that Bama has in the stable, who’s the best one for Alabama to saddle up and ride?  The Ole Miss defenders are tiny – in a 4-3 defense, their two outside linebackers weigh 195 and 205 pounds.  At Alabama, our kicker poops bigger than that!  In watching the Texas game, honestly the little Rebs couldn’t bring down their big backs until they’d strewn several of them 5 or more yards down the field.  The Texas backs were 230 and 223 lbs so I suspect Lacy (230) and Yeldon (216) will be the most effective Bama horses.  In fact, look for Lacy to be the most effective.

Trojan Man:  Protection.  That’s going to be key for Alabama to beat Ole Miss.  Ole Miss comes into the game ranked third in the conference in sacks with 12 (however it must be noted they did not record a sack against Texas).  If Bama has an Achilles heel on offense, it’s with a speed rush so, as Eminem told us, be on the lookout for “two trailer park kids going around the outside.”  It will be up to Cyrus K and DJ “Jazzy Sack” Fluker to ensure AJ stays upright Saturday.  The stats tell me to expect at least two sacks by Ole Miss so I’ll say they’ll get two or more.  I hope I’m wrong because protecting AJ is priority #1.

300:  Throwing for 300 yards won’t exactly be as difficult as, say, slaying Xerxes, as the Black Bear secondary should be easy pickings for the McCannon.  The tape and the stats tell me that AJ will record his first 300 yard passing game of the season.

If At First You Don’t Succeed:  Ok, so you got me, or so you think.  I led this section with the fact that Bama SHOULD be able to run the ball with their bigger backs.  But, I think the Rebels will sell out to stop the run and force AJ to beat them with the pass and, initially, we’ll struggle in the run game because of this.  However, the Tide should be able to hit a few easy throws against their poor secondary which, in turn, will open up the running game.  Make sense?

Always with the Negative Waves:  I can’t shake the feeling that AJ commits a turnover in this game.  My Charmed crystal ball tells me so and each time I “Ask Again Later”, it’s the same thing.  Hope I’m wrong.

The Post Man Always Rings Twice:  I feel really good about this particular pick.  In the FAU game review, I mentioned to you the Owl corners were sitting on the corner routes big time and, as a result, they knocked away several passes.  This week, I look for us to sell the corner and then turn sharply back towards the post (middle of the field).  We’ll hit at least two post routes for over 20 yards while the Rebel Black Bears commit to covering the outside of the field.

Swami Sez:  I have such a strange, strange feeling about this game.  Here’s hoping it’s just a hemorrhoid but I think Ole Miss stays under the number (a 31 point line last I looked) and they make it a bit of a high scoring game.  With that in mind, I see Bama piling up over 500 yards of offense and over 35 points.  Yeldon and Lacy will combine for 150 yards and AJ will throw for over 300 yards.  We’ll hit at least two BIG post routes, one of which will be Christion Jones.  I think we’ll throw at least two WR screens, as well.

Alabama on Defense

Look, folks, Michigan was bad.  Really bad.  Arkansas was worse.  Waaaay worse.  So, thus far the most challenging offense the Tide has faced is Western Kentucky and they were sent home with a big ole bagel (or goose egg, if you prefer) for all their successes.  But, Saturday night will be different (provided Bo Wallace plays which isn’t a certainty at press time – he was removed due to an injury against Tulane last week).  For all of Alabama’s success on defense this year, they haven’t been tested by a balanced offense or by any real playmakers (yes, Denard Robinson is supposed to be listed here but for whatever reason Michigan chose not to utilize him against Alabama).  The Rebels bring the ability to run it and throw it and with Jeff Scott and Donte Moncrief, they have two legit playmakers.  Additionally, the Malzahn-esque offense (Zahny Freeze?) will test the soundness of the young Bama defenders in a way they have not yet been tested.  Bo Wallace is a big guy who can run well enough (averaging over 4 yards a carry) to keep the middle of the defense honest and he is a much better passer than folks are giving him credit for.  I watched him against UTEP and Texas and I came away liking him each time.  But, while Wallace is pretty good, the focus of the Bama D will be to defend the perimeter of the running game.  If the Tide ends do not keep containment (the key to containing the spread), then speedy Jeff Scott will be off to the races.  And, when Alabama crowds the line of scrimmage to stop the run, Wallace has shown the ability to get the ball up to Donte Moncreif who, at 6’2, 214 lbs, can certainly go up and get it.  I think it’s going to be a challenge…

Highway to the Danger Zone:  My favorite thing to watch for versus the spread is how Nick uses his safeties to stuff the running game.  I’d love to know what tips him off but, just before the snap, Nick has a safety fly up to the line of scrimmage.  Pre-snap, the QB sees Bama with six men in the “box” but, just before the snap, Nick moves at least one safety up and 9 times out of 10 the safety blitzes right into the perimeter run.  It’s amazing how often Bama gets this right and it’s a kill shot to the option running game.

Don’t Come Around Here No More:  If I were game planning for the Rebs, I would look to see where Dee Milliner lines up and then call for a run in the other direction.  Not only does Dee bring the D in the passing game, but he brings the wood in the running game.  Coming out of JUCO, the knock on Belue was his ability to provide run support so, honestly, I would wear him out.

Mano y Mano:  Many consider Moncrief to be a pretty special WR and he certainly has the size and speed to wreak havoc.  I can’t wait to see Milliner play man to man on Moncrief – what a battle! 

Safety Dance:  Time to time, Alabama will likely play with a single high safety, which means there will be one deep safety to assist against the long passes.  I like Robert Lester back there but I haven’t been impressed with Perry, Sunseri or Clinton-Dix.  I’ll be watching to see if Ole Miss aligns in such a way that forces one of the lesser safeties to play the single high role.  I think we are susceptible if someone other than Lester is here.

Here Comes the Boom:  Ole Miss is second worst in the conference in giving up sacks so I’m looking for three or more once again.  I think the secondary records at least one sack either with a corner or safety blitz.

Person of Interest:  Jesse Williams will have to play well Saturday but he’s not my person of interest here.  When he goes out, backup Brandon Ivory will likely not be able to come in as he’s nursing a sprained ankle.  So, my person of interest here is Bama’s third string nose tackle, DarrenLake.  Lake was blown out of the middle on his first play against FAU but came back strong during the rest of his time on the field.  So, will he get himself a few bearskin pelts or will the Bears take a dump in our Lake?  Tune in Saturday – should be interesting.

Standing Outside the Fire:  Courtney Upshaw defended the edge better than anyone I’ve ever seen so Hubbard and Dickson have big, big shoes to fill.  The QB’s first read is the end, so everything the end does dictates what the offense will do.  If the end contains the edge, the QB will be forced to keep the play between the tackles.  But, if the ends crash down and fail to “do their job”, then the quick Ole Miss backs will be able to turn the corner and that’s where it all breaks down.  I’ll be watching to see how Hubbard and Dickson play the edge and contain the perimeter running plays.  Key. To. The.  Game.

Swami Sez:  Ole Miss will score more points than anyone has against Alabama thus far.  Ole Miss will gain more yards than anyone has thus far.  The Rebs will connect on a long pass to Moncrief.  Alabama will hold the Black Bears to less than 150 yards rushing (they average 260).  Alabama will record at least two picks in the game and these will be huge, huge plays.  Alabama will record three or more sacks, one of which will be by the secondary. 

Alabama on Special Teams

The Bama special teams have been solid and, at times, spectacular this season and there is no reason to think this will change Saturday night.  Here are a few things I’ll be watching for on special teams, though:

  • Will Cody Mandel get back to his 40+ yard average?
  • Will Dee Hart return any punts (he looked mighty good, didn’t he)?
  • Ole Miss’ kicker is 3 of 7 on the year with two misses inside the 40.  Will his misery continue?
  • Alabama may have an opportunity or two to improve on the one aspect of their special teams that is severely lacking – the kick return game.  I believe Alabama is ranked 114th in kickoff return average.  Can we improve upon this?

Final Thoughts

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen a few late night football thrillers in the last couple of years but I have a sneaky suspicion that this game may be more troublesome than the experts think (i.e. Alabama will not cover).  In fact, I fear this game may actually still be in doubt (2 score game) midway thru the third quarter or even later.  Remember the IowaState win over Ok State last year?  Late night game.  Boise’s loss to TCU last year?  Late night kick.  Remember USC beating Oregon last year?  Late night TV.   So, for the reasons above and because we are so near to the witching month, I have it in my head that Alabama could up on Elvira’s late night Movie Macabre Saturday evening.  However, Ole Miss’ complete and utter lack of anything resembling a defense keeps me from looking underneath the bed for the boogyman this week.  I think by the end of the third quarter or so there should be nothing for upset hopeful fans to tune in for – nothing to see here…move along…move along…


Final Score:  Alabama 38    Ole Miss 17


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