Saturday’s game against the Ole Miss Black Rebel Bears (or whatever they are this week) sets up to be a huge game for the Crimson Tide. Win it, and the Tide can instantly cure millions of people who are presently suffering from Chicken Little-itis as they are preparing for the Crimson skies to fall. And, honestly, the Crimson Tide didn’t blow the doors off of Virginia Tech and they didn’t exactly maul an inferior Colorado State team so all is not humming along perfectly, is it? Well, we here at the Lighthouse do feel that the 2013 team is actively searching for leaders and an identity but we aren’t quite ready to head to the shelters just yet. Neither should you.
With Alabama evidently suffering from a variety of ills, it seems the Rebels are coming in with a chance to take their greatest step up the national ladder of relevancy. Much like A&M a couple of weeks ago, playing #1 Alabama is a big, big game for the Rebs as this very young squad is being asked to stand up to the big lights on the main stage for the first time in their careers. They are young. They are inexperienced. Alabama is neither. This we like. We like this a lot.
Here’s what to watch for on offense this week against the Black Bears presented by the Rebels of Mississippi…
Alabama on Offense
Many will compare the match-up against Ole Miss to the match-up against Texas A&M. We agree that, like the Aggies, the Rebels are a young up-tempo team looking to slay college football’s biggest & baddest dragon. But, that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Defensively, Ole Miss plays a nickel defense that features a bunch of light weight defenders who swarm the ball carriers. Last year, Texas steamrolled this smallish group for well over 300 yards on the ground but this year they only tallied 124 yards so you can tell the Rebs are getting better. Their three-man and four-man fronts invite you into running up the middle but their safeties and slot defenders fly to the ball with reckless abandon and quickly shut down the running lanes. And, the DBs better fly in there. With a front four that only weighs 231, 295, 270 and 250, they’d better give them as much help as possible!
Last year, we noted that, like the Virginia Tech game this year, Alabama left the backside defender unblocked and he wreaked havoc on the Bama backs. The interior of the offensive line never established a significant push up front so the Tide was forced to throw for much of the game. Thankfully, Amari “Super” Cooper stepped up with 8 catches, five of which converted third downs, and a couple of touchdowns and Bama was able to skin the Bears, er, Rebels.
Last year, Alabama’s offense made two adjustments that I think will play prominent roles this Saturday. With Ole Miss thwarting our interior running plays, Alabama countered by pulling their guards and tackles to the outside. This left the tiny Rebel linebackers and defensive backs in the path of steamrollers named Fluker, Steen and Warmack and the Bama backs enjoyed success on the outside. Also, Ole Miss sat on our shallow crossing game and cleaned the clocks of Norwood and Jones on early catches across the short middle of the field. As the game progressed, the Tide extended their throws to the deeper middle and found a ton of success (Texas found the same thing in their game against Ole Miss this season – shallow crossers weren’t there but the deeper middle was open) on deep square ins.
So, with that background, here is what to watch for (W2W4) this week:
- Look for Alabama to use the same scheme they used to bulldoze the little Aggies in the second half of the A&M game. Ryan Kelly has been getting blown up in the middle but he’s excelled as a pulling center. I think you’ll see a good dose of this as we try to get to the outside of their defense. Incidentally, the Ole Miss defensive ends seem to be trained to crash to the inside and this has a big effect on the inside running game – another reason to work the flanks.
- Texas hit the Rebs with a couple of counters which proved to be big gainers for their backs. Look for TJ Yeldon to start in one direction and then counter back to the other direction. Ole Miss’ defense plays fast and they swarm to the ball. The Tide backs can take advantage by getting them to flow in one direction and then cut back against the flow. This is Yeldon’s sweet spot so look for him to have a few big gainers.
- Last year, Alabama hit Ole Miss’ defense with seven screens (four to the WRs and three to the backs). Texas ate the Ole Miss secondary alive with WR screens and that’s a staple of our offense. Look for the WR screen game to be featured prominently in our attack.
- The Ole Miss safeties bite hard on running plays so that they can provide run support. So, the play action game should yield some big shots down the middle of the Rebel defense.
- The Rebels really don’t have much of a pass rush so we think AJ’s pants will likely not have a grass stain on them this week (no more than one sack).
- Brandon Greene will be used quite a bit this week and his mismatch in size will be exploited.
- Vandy threw for 300 yards against the Rebels and Texas’ woeful Case McCoy threw for 196. This year’s Alabama offense appears to be transitioning to more of a passing game (as we suspected at the beginning of the year) and we believe that the Tide will begin the game attacking thru the air as they attempt to establish a tempo and rhythm.
- AJ will throw for over 290 yards and at least two touchdowns (at least one of them will be over 20 yards).
- TJ Yeldon will rush for at least 80 yards. Two of his runs will account for nearly half of this total.
- Amari Cooper will have his best game of the season. Book it.
- I’m officially man crushing on DeAndrew White. He is now the second leading receiver on the team in catches (8) and he is the leading receiver in yards (161) and touchdowns (ok, so he’s actually tied with Vinnie Sunseri with two touchdown receptions on the season). Look for he and Kenny Bell to get a few first downs and maybe a touchdown on WR screens.
- OJ Howard will be a mismatch for the entire Rebels’ secondary. Look for at least three catches from him once again as the deep middle will be open behind their two linebackers, especially off of play action. Did you know that he’s quietly become the third leading receiver on the team?
- This game plan will be similar to the A&M offensive game plan. Look for us to throw early, and establish a tempo. Then we’ll lean on the running game to put them away.
As for Alabama on special teams, Christion Jones had a big time kick return against the Rebels last year and he’s shown himself to be a valuable weapon once again this season. Ole Miss’ punter averages nearly 50 yards a punt which should open up some lanes for Jones in the punt return game. Also, the Rebels are 10th in the conference in covering kick offs so there could be another opportunity there for Jones this season.
The main concern for me on special teams continues to be Cade Foster. He didn’t strike the ball consistently last week so it appears he’s literally looking to hit his stride as a place kicker. If it comes down to needing a game winner, hold your breath and get on bended knee.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the W2W4 on Defense (I think you’ll be pleased) and we’ll make a score prediction as well!