Welcome back to the Defensive version of the W2W4 against Ole Miss. If you missed the offensive version, you can find it here – it should lift up your spirits a little bit about the Ole Miss game, even in the wake of the offensive issues against Colorado State. But, for now, we are here to talk about defense. After all, defense wins championships, right? Disagree? Ask Texas A&M what they wouldn’t give for a defense this season…
If you glean nothing else from this week’s W2W4 then make sure you fully absorb this: Ole Miss’ offense is completely and totally different from Texas A&M’s. The only similarity between the two is that they like to snap the ball quickly but, outside of that we are talking apples and oranges. Maybe even apples and squash. Whatever the analogy, just know they are not remotely similar.
The Ole Miss version of the hurry up no huddle offense simply wants to run the ball down your throat. They’ll threaten you horizontally with Jeffrey Scott’s speed but they will also keep you honest by running Scott and QB Bo Wallace between the tackles. On every play there’s side to side threat and there are typically vertical threats, as well. A new weapon in the Rebels’ arsenal is the usage of the “pop pass” to their freshman tight end Evan Engram. Basically, the Rebs fake the zone read which forces the linebackers to come up to play the run and then Wallace zips a pass down the seam to Engram. It’s a great little weapon for them and it allows them to threaten you in a variety of different ways from the same play.
So, how do we stop it? Let’s take a look….
You Like to Move It, Move It: Ole Miss’ tempo on offense is high-octane, that’s for sure. If they have success on first down, look for the Rebs to hustle to the line of scrimmage to run the next play as quickly as possible. Just know that 90% of the time their next hurry up play is a run (typically the zone read to the outside). With the defense gassed and unable to line up quickly, the outside zone read can be dangerous and that’s their “go to” play when they step on the gas pedal.
The Cutting Edge: Speaking of the outside zone read, this particular game will be won or lost on the outside edge of Alabama’s front four. Adrian Hubbard and Ed Stinson MUST keep their outside shoulders free so that they can string out the sweeps and force them back inside. If Alabama cannot contain the edge then they will be in serious, serious trouble. No, seriously! But, the good news is that Nick Saban’s defenses have always excelled at this and they do so by walking down a safety and blitzing him right into the runs. It’s uncanny how they are able to do this with such regularity.
Another Brick in the Wall: With enough bricks in wall of the front six or front seven of Alabama’s defense, Ole Miss will be forced to pass and that’s where Alabama can possibly thrive. Against Vandy and Texas, Wallace didn’t take many shots deep down the field. Instead, they relied on wide receiver screens, quick hitches and pop passes and even Alabama’s troublesome secondary should be able to stay within the Rebels’ zip code on shorter patterns. And while Colorado State had some success on these types of routes last week, it was great practice for the young DBs. Look for Alabama to successfully defend these types of throws Saturday night.
Size Matters: With the Ole Miss receivers going 6’3, 6’3, 6’3 and 6’1, that literally poses a “big” problem for the Bama secondary. If they can lock up one of these tall guys on Cyrus Jones (5’9) or John Fulton (5’11) in a one on one matchup then there better be a safety providing some help over the top. The Tide didn’t help their corners much over the top against Mike Evans and that was a “big” deal. Let’s hope for better help from the safeties this week. Also, look for true freshman Eddie Jackson (#4 in your program but #1 in your heart) to possibly be used as he seems to be the best guy to combat some of their size.
Size Matters, Part Deaux: Jeffrey Scott scored on touchdown runs of over 70 yards against both Texas and Vanderbilt and the key blocks on those runs were made by the aforementioned Ole Miss wide receivers. They’ll have a large advantage over Bama’s smaller corners so our corners must find a way to disengage from these blocks and make some tackles in the run game. We kinda wonder if Vinnie Sunseri might switch roles and line up as a slot defender where he’d blitz into the running lanes.
When I Move, You Move: If you want to know where the ball is going then all you have to do is watch the Rebels’ offensive line. They pull a guard on their zone read plays and he typically leads the way to where the ball is going to be. They do have a couple of counters off of this play but, by and large, follow their guards and you’ll find the ball.
Single High: As we said above, Alabama utilizes a safety to stuff these zone read offenses. Unfortunately, that will leave only one safety deep to defend the deep throws. With Sunseri getting burned while peeking into the backfield against A&M (and others), it will be interesting to me to see if Landon Collins spends any time as a deep safety. Geno Smith is back and Jarrick Williams should be back as well and this could free up one of the better athletes on the team (Collins) to provide some deep help. It may not happen but I loved what I saw with Collins as a deep safety against Colorado State at the end of the game as he nearly picked off two passes. Imagine the field coverage if Collins played in a two deep safety look with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix….
Under Pressure: We saved the best for last. Or, perhaps it’s the worst for last. Alabama has only three sacks on the season. THREE! And, the amazing thing about this is that all three of them have come from the defensive line – a unit that isn’t even asked to provide a pass rush. This means that Hubbard, Devall and Dickson haven’t recorded a single solitary sack from the Jack position so, in effect, they aren’t doing jack! This absolutely has to change. With such a young, inexperienced secondary (who also lacks Dre Kirkpatrick or Dee Milliner kind of talent) the best way to help them is with an effective pass rush. Will this be the week that Alabama records more than one sack? It needs to be.
- Ole Miss will have more than 80 yards of rushing offense against us this year (they currently average 250). Last year they gained 80 yards on the ground – we think they’ll top the 100 yard mark this time.
- Ole Miss will score more than the 14 points they scored last year (they currently average 38 pts per game)
- You’ll hear the names Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram quite a few times as they will attack Bama on shorter throws down the seams and in the middle of the field
- Moncrief will burn someone deep
- Alabama will record three sacks
- Alabama will record two interceptions, one of which will be from a safety providing deep help
- Deion Belue will make a couple of huge plays, either breaking up a pass or picking one off
- Bo Wallace is going to take a huge hit that makes 102,000 people go “OOOOOH” at the same time.
Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have never, ever had any problems with stuffing these read option offenses. Their usage of the safeties is extraordinary and they seemingly always know right where the play is going nearly every single time. Last year, Ole Miss was averaging 300 yards of rushing offense but they only rushed for 80 yards against us last season. The Rebels will likely be forced to pass Saturday night and, thankfully, that is not Bo Wallace’s strong suit…of course many would say defending the pass isn’t exactly Alabama’s strong suit, either. Wallace is effective on shorter throws where coverages are blown but he’s not exactly the prototypical five step drop kind of pocket QB. In fact, he’s ranked ninth in the SEC in passing efficiency. Ole Miss as a team is ranked 13th in passing efficiency. So, if Bama can force some third and sevens or longer (which they should), Wallace should have a pretty rough time of it.
I believe Alabama will have Deion Belue back in the secondary and his presence back there should not be underestimated. Belue’s ability to play man to man should free up the rest of the secondary to mix some coverages and provide a few different looks that should confuse Wallace a great deal. In the early downs, Alabama will be committing a safety to the line of scrimmage in order to stop the run and this will leave a single high safety to provide deep coverage. If this safety is Vinnie Sunseri then, if I were Hugh Freeze, I would attack the Bama defense deep on the early downs because Sunseri has shown some difficulties in providing deep cover as the single safety. If Ole Miss can take advantage of this as Texas A&M did, then we could absolutely be in trouble. But, Wallace isn’t Manziel. And Moncrief isn’t Evans. And this young Ole Miss squad isn’t quite ready for this kind of challenge. Prior to the Alabama team holding a players only meeting after the Colorado State game, I wasn’t sure Alabama would be up for this challenge. But, the Bama players have challenged each other to hold themselves to a higher standard than what they’ve been playing at thus far this season. They’ll be focused. They’ll be ready.
Final Score: Alabama 31 Ole Miss 20
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