There are lies, damn lies and then there are statistics. After putting up 76 and 73 points against woeful competition, we aren’t exactly sure what to make of the Ole Miss Black Rebel Bears this season. Johnny Reb put up 662 yards of offense against UT-Martin (not sure if that was UT-Martin Short or UT-Martin Lawrence but neither of them can apparently play football well) and followed up that performance by hanging 607 yards of offense against Fresno State and noted defensive guru Tim DeRuyter. What does it all mean? Frankly, we have no idea. That’s why this week we are enlisting the help of a veteran high school coach of more than 20 years who’s broken down more film than Cannes in an effort to separate the facts from the fiction of the Ole Miss offensive machine. We can’t wait to bring you this epic W2W4!
But, first a word to you guys and gals. The mission statement of the Bama Lighthouse is to bring you the good AND the bad of Alabama football. We praise Alabama when the Tide deserves praise but we also shine a spotlight on the dark places that many Bama fans do not want to see or acknowledge. To this point in our W2W4 segments our crack staff has never, ever picked anyone but the Tide to win. Will that change this week? Well, let’s get the popcorn ready and roll the tape….
Alabama on Offense
As always, we start our review by looking at the Crimson Tide offense. At times, Lane Kiffin has actually had the offense looking sharp this season. Kiffin has reintroduced OJ Howard to the world but, at the same time, he’s created opportunities for both Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake to be the best playmakers they can be. Overall, you have to be very pleased with the balanced attack and the new “spread the wealth” approach that Kiffin has brought to the 2015 season.
However, thus far this season there have been many times the Tide’s 2015 Ferrari has slammed into a pothole on their way to the end zone. Right tackle Dominick Jackson has struggled in pass protection. Jake Coker has struggled with his reads and sometimes his decision making makes us think his brain is operating off of an old Radio Shack TRS-80 instead of being hooked to a mainframe computer. But, overall we’ve been very pleased with Jake’s progression from last season and, we have to admit, he’s easily the best the Tide has to offer at the position.
The brightest spots of the offense have clearly been the dynamic running back duo of Henry and Drake. Oh Henry smashes and bashes thru defenses while Shake N Drake weaves and darts his way around them, each doing his thang with deadly effect. Last season, we felt the Tide had a tremendous advantage over Ole Miss along the line of scrimmage and TJ Yeldon seemed agree as he gained over 6 yards per carry last year. However, Derrick Henry struggled mightily, only rushing for 37 yards on 17 attempts. Nevertheless, Alabama controlled time of possession 33:21 to 26:37 but was ultimately undone by penalties and turnovers and lost a game they shouldn’t have against the Rebels. Here’s what we see for this year’s matchup…
Comin’ Home: Ole Miss loves to blitz their linebackers downhill into their run fits and this was very effective against Derrick Henry last year. Look for Kenyan Drake to be the better, more successful back Saturday night as he has more ability to bounce outside or burst thru a small seam for a long gainer.
She’s Tight: The Rebel defense led the nation in fewest points allowed last year (16.0) and is once again a very fundamentally sound group. They provide offenses with no busted coverages, no missed run fits and they do an excellent job of filling in gaps when they send their linebackers in to blitz. Their safeties are so fast and so physical that they easily replace the linebackers in the secondary. This is about as well coached of a defense as we will see all year long.
Another Brick in the Wall: If it’s 3rd & 5 or something similar, look for the Ole Miss zone to form a picket fence or a brick wall across the line to gain. This makes for very tight windows to throw the ball down the field and forces nearly everything to be thrown in front of them. I personally think that Derrick Henry will be most effective in the game as a receiver out of the backfield as he has the ability to make the Rebel defenders bounce off of him like ping pong balls off a Sherman tank. I would love to see him get a screen or a check down and then unleash the beast that is Derrick Henry on the tiny Bear cubs in the back seven.
Get Up, Stand Up: Just before the snap of the ball, Ole Miss likes to have their interior line shift around and create confusion with the blocking schemes of the offensive line. However, sometimes this means the Rebs are standing upright at the line of scrimmage! If this happens, look for the Tide’s line to drive off the ball and get underneath the Ole Miss pads – the low man wins in football so this could be a huge advantage Saturday night.
Carry Out: Baby, the out routes are looking fine and should be open all night like an IHOP. Even Justin Timberlake would be able to complete a few of these out routes to our wide receivers so Jake Coker and/or Cooper Bateman should be able to, as well. Last week, Fresno cleared out the flats by using a wide receiver to push the corner down the field on vertical routes. As the corner dropped to stay with the wide receiver, a back, tight end or slot receiver was able to drift into the vacated area for a first down. Short, underneath throws and an interior running game will be the keys to moving the ball for Bama.
In Two Deep: Deep shots down the middle of the field will be closed or, to quote Gandolph, “NONE SHALL PASS.” Ole Miss constantly keeps a cover two shell so their two safeties are always lurking in the deep middle of the field looking for over throws and deep routes. Patience will be the virtue that we need Saturday night. I see a pick or two in Coker’s future – when he misses, he misses high.
Wrecking Ball: As with the previous years, the Rebel defensive line is very, very, very light in their shorts. Across their tiny (but fast) front they go 231, 280, 270 and 280. Derrick Henry takes dumps that are bigger than the Ole Miss linebackers who weigh 211 and 197, dis-respectively. Basically, Alabama’s massive line needs to man the freak up and slam the ball down the Bears’ throats. I think this and say this every year and every year we are unable to do it. Maybe this year we’ll actually be able to assert our physicality. Maybe this will be the game that Lane puts down the waffle house play sheet that has all the pass plays. Or, more than likely…probably not…
- Ole Miss will be blitzing a ton and I’d suspect they’ll target poor ole Dominick Jackson. Brandon Greene was moved back over to right tackle this week in practice so we’ll see how long Jackson actually lasts out there Saturday night.
- If Bama wants a first down, I’d formation Ole Miss into lining their 231 lb linebacker across from Cam Robinson and run left. But, that’s just me. Lots and lots of yardage to be gained on the left side. That flip pass to Drake should be a lot of fun…
- I just don’t think OJ Howard will have a very good game. He’s too slow in his routes and I suspect the Rebs will bottle him up easily.
- But I think Kenyan Drake goes off, especially for revenge from last year’s broken leg.
- Getting Henry past the front four and into the second line of defense will be the key for him to have any success this week. He should win any one on ones or two on ones against anyone in the back seven not named Tony Conner (#12).
- Look for Alabama to go for it any time they face a fourth down inside the Ole Miss 40 yard line but outside the Rebs’ 25 yard line. Basically, I don’t think they trust Griffith to even attempt anything beyond 40 yards so “when in doubt Kiffin will air it out” on fourth downs in Ole Miss territory.
- Ole Miss prefers to rush only four men and drop seven into coverage so it’s no surprise they have generated only 2 sacks this season. However, I’d expect them to at least double their season total this week.
Alabama on Defense
Nick Saban has faced Hugh Freeze’s offense three times, holding the Rebels to 14, 0 and 23 points. The truly interesting thing about this is that Saban has completely frozen Freeze’s running game, holding them to 80, 46 and 76 yards respectively over the past three seasons. Ole Miss’ offense becomes particularly difficult to stop when they can threaten their opponents with the running game AND the passing game so making them a one handed team has always led to success for Alabama. This season, however, Ole Miss has a huge cast of Frisbee catching/football catching dawgs and they’ve even upgraded at the quarterback position, as well. We are only two weeks into the season but at this point it looks as though Ole Miss’ offense may actually be the most difficult matchup this season for Alabama’s defense. Coming into the season, the Lighthouse staff predicted Ole Miss, A&M, Tennessee and Auburn would be the most difficult offenses for Alabama to stop. However, at this point Tennessee and Auburn have not impressed us thus far. Therefore, we think this particular game against the Rebs could very well have implications for the SEC West that many are not aware of.
As for Alabama, their vaunted front line generated ZERO sacks last week against Middle Tennessee. Yes, that was primarily because MT’s plan was to get the ball out of the QBs hands as quickly as possible but it also did show us that the Bama d-line can be neutralized by smart play calling. If Ole Miss is able to do the same thing (which they should be able to do), then Bama’s decided advantage across the front line will be nullified, leaving Ole Miss to challenge the Tide’s secondary in a virtual 7-on-7 game. Ole Miss gets the ball out of the quarterback’s hands very quickly. How will it break down? Let’s roll the tape….
Sideways: Much of what the Ole Miss offense likes to do is to attack the flanks of the defense. It seems about 65% of their offense is based on fly sweeps, swing passes and WR screens. Alabama has always stuffed the lateral runs (as well as the interior ones) so the key matchup here will be how Alabama defends the WR screens. Frankly, the Tide has done a very poor job in defending these – mainly because they are overrunning the play. Look for Ole Miss to challenge Alabama’s young secondary (Marlon Humphrey, Mikah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison will all be true freshmen) with this repeatedly until Alabama proves they can stop it.
Soft Cell: Laremy Tunsil isn’t expected to play in this game as he has been caught up in an “extended test drive” investigation with a local car dealership. So, in order to overcome this loss Ole Miss has moved their right tackle to left tackle and they’ve inserted a redshirt freshman at right tackle. Also, the Rebels’ center left the Fresno State game with an apparent leg injury so he likely will not be 100%. This line is not working well together and there have even been times first year starter Chad Kelly has directed the line’s protections away from the blitz (not smart). Last week, Kelly got popped numerous times in the pocket and we think that he’s going to have difficulty standing in the pocket this week. Look for a few shots to leave Kelly dazed and confused.
Athletic Supporters: In an effort to provide help for their new left tackle, Hugh Freeze oftentimes had the tight end and the running back block down on the left side, giving the tackle a huge supporting cast. This max protect look left only two receivers out in the pass routes and they took deep shots on the post each time with this look. BTW – Fresno’s safeties inexplicably came up into shallow coverage, allowing the Rebs receivers to easily get over the top. Fresno’s secondary…and linebackers…and d-line were all awful. They were clueless. It made it a tough evaluation because Fresno was just so very bad.
Baby Got Back (Shoulder): When Ole Miss throws the ball down the field, more times than not they are throwing the vaunted back shoulder fade. Alabama’s coverage on these this season has improved dramatically since hiring secondary coach Mel Tucker – look for Ole Miss to challenge the Bama corners with this throw (particularly Treadwell on Cyrus Jones).
Quit Jammin’ Me: You can keep the Rebel receivers painted in a corner if you can jam the snot out of them off the line of scrimmage. Bama’s corners need to jam, bump, clutch and grab the OM receivers right off the line in an effort to disrupt the timing of all of the three step drops. The longer the Tide defensive backs can stay engaged or entangled with the receivers, the longer the line will have to push into the face of Chad Kelly. Speaking of…
Pressure: When Chad Kelly is in the shotgun, he doesn’t take a single step back in his drop. Instead, he keeps his feet planted, allowing him to get the ball out quickly (he feet are already set so there’s no wasted motion). However, Alabama’s defensive line should be able to generate a serious push up the middle, forcing the offensive linemen back into Kelly’s lap. Since he doesn’t take any steps backwards, he’s only about four or five yards behind the center – A’Shawn Robinson and Jarren Reed should be able to get into the throwing lanes and bat several passes down at the line of scrimmage.
Boombastic: When he has time, Kelly simply doesn’t miss open receivers. He throws a really nice, catchable deep ball that is pretty deadly. He also pumps in one direction (as if to throw a swing pass or WR screen) and then comes back to the other side of the field and hits wide open receivers. Kelly is very, very good and his time in the film room (he’s a noted film junkie) allows him to make quick reads and quick decisions. Additionally, the route trees that the Rebs run from their bunch formations wreaked havoc with a VETERAN Tide secondary last year so if Kelly has enough time, he’ll have several opportunities against Bama’s young pups.
Bottoms Up: Look for Kelly’s bottom to go above his head a few times if Alabama runs a few stunts and games in the interior of the defensive line (which we always do). Fresno’s d-line was slow and unathletic but still produced a good bit of pressure with their stunts and interior games. I really think Kelly gets beaten like a piñata this week, but that’s just me.
- Kelly is a better runner than Wallace and will have success keeping the ball on his zone reads.
- On the same play, Ole Miss will run a zone read (running play), a wide receiver screen, and a go route all at the same time. There’s a lot going on with nearly every play.
- The Rebs love to hit their receivers on post routes that cut underneath the safety – this allows their big framed wide outs to box out the safety and keep them on their backs.
- One very successful play for the Rebels is to pump fake the ball to the back flaring out of the backfield and then hit the tight end or slot receiver in the seam in the area where the safety has come up to defend the run. Basically, the safety vacates his area in order to attack the flare pass to the back, leaving the seam wide open.
- Look for Ole Miss to use Robert Nkemdiche as a decoy in short yardage. Thus far they’ve given it to him every time so look for something tricky off this since Freeze will be on the national stage.
- Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram (#17) scares us far more than Laquon Treadwell (#1). Engram was a problem for the Tide last year and should be able to exploit the Bama linebackers and safeties in coverage.
Alabama on Special Teams
What used to be a strength for the Tide in 2014 is suddenly a weakness. JK Scott is currently 13th in the SEC in punting average at 38.67 yards. Ole Miss is averaging 42 yards per punt so it’s actually advantage Rebels in the punting game. And, you all know about Alabama’s struggles in the kicking game so we need not go into all that. Suffice it to say that Adam Griffith’s next field goal attempt had better be good or he’ll get to sit on the bench and cheer for the next man up in the kicking depth chart. Meanwhile, Ole Miss’ kicker is just 1 for 1 on the season from 37 yards. Not exactly a huge data set but it is one more kick than Alabama has made this season. Sigh.
Alabama and Ole Miss are 11th and 12th in the SEC in kick returns and they are 10th and 8th in punt returns so there really is not much separation there. Bama does have a punt block on their resume and their coverage teams have been outstanding so maybe, just maybe that will be an advantage.
Based on what we’ve written above and what we’ve seen, we do expect Alabama to struggle to score Saturday night. And, yes, we are fearful that Ole Miss will be able to exploit the arm of Chad Kelly and the youth of the Tide’s secondary. In fact, prior to our actual review of the Ole Miss game film we felt certain that Alabama was in deep, deep doo-doo and we strongly considered picking Alabama to lose this game (that would have been a first for this site).
However, once we put the tape on we changed our opinion very quickly. While it’s true that Ole Miss amassed a ridiculous amount of points and yardage against Fresno State (and UT-Martin), once we viewed the film we realized that, simply put, Fresno State sux. No, seriously. Their secondary was horrific and served as little more than statues at times. They vacated zones while chasing ghosts in the backfield and Kelly quickly found receivers in these vacated areas. Taking candy from a baby would have actually been harder to do than scoring on the Fresno defense.
In watching the Ole Miss offensive line, boy was it offensive. The tackles were easily flanked and the interior of the line busted several stunts and games from the defensive tackles. The saving grace for Kelly was the fact that he was able to get the ball out so incredibly quickly and he could do so because he had access to wide open receivers. With Alabama’s line being bigger and faster and their secondary looking like they’ve actually been coached before, then we expect Kelly to be challenged in a way that he hasn’t ever been challenged before. The quick reads that were there against lesser competition should not be so readily available against Alabama. Time thinking and processing will be time that allows Alabama’s d-line to constrict around the pocket.
In the end, there are a lot of other factors at play that simply push the dial from favoring Ole Miss to favoring Alabama. You all know this is a revenge game and Saban is 9-1 in revenge games in his career. You all probably know that Alabama has only lost at home to Ole Miss once in 100 years of playing organized football. But, to me, there are only two numbers that will matter Saturday night. One. As in the number one. This is Kelly’s first ever road start and it’s his first time to feel the pressure of being on the road in the SEC. The other important number is 102,000. That’s the number of rabid fans that will be screaming their hearts out in an effort to make things tough on Johnny Reb. And you know what? They will.
Prediction: Alabama 28 Ole Miss 24
*This was the toughest prediction I’ve ever had to do. Ole Miss is a very good football team but in the end their offensive line was just too bad to pick them.