This week, breaking down the Ole Miss game film against Florida State was kind of like asking us to develop a thesis on the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Was he really Jekyll? Or was he always truly Hyde?
In today’s lingo, perhaps you are more familiar asking these questions – is Ole Miss really Direct TV Ole Miss (first half) or, are they actually Cable Ole Miss (second half)? Our extensive film study experts sat down to solve this riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Thankfully, we chose to stay away from the more difficult task of figuring out whether Ole Miss’ mascot is a Rebel or if it’s a Black Bear. We’ve reached out to Geraldo Rivera to help us unearth Johnny Reb’s secret vault for clues…
When we first looked at Alabama’s 2016 schedule, the trip to Oxford stuck out like Elvis Presley at a Home & Garden show. Regardless of which QB started for Alabama this season, Oxford’s initiation into SEC road games was going to be a very tall order for someone. Imagine. Starting a true freshman. On the road. Against arguably the best QB in the SEC. And trying to prevent (it hurts to say this) a three game losing streak to Ole Miss. This trip will not be for the faint of heart, my friends, but it’s going to take a lot more than the reemergence of Katy Perry and the Roar of the Oxford faithful to beat Alabama this time around…
Alabama on Offense
In the last two meetings, Huge Freeze’s bunch showed us that they have what it takes to put some points on the board against Alabama’s defense. So, for one of the few times this season, it will be incumbent upon the Bama offense to put a passel of points on the board.
First half, or Direct TV Ole Miss, used seven and eight man fronts on defense to discombobulate the FSU offensive line. The yardage lost from the resulting sacks and penalties (holding & a jillion false starts) sent the Noles backwards on a Trail of Tears that they simply couldn’t overcome. And that was at a “neutral” site game in Orlando where the Seminoles shouldn’t have been affected.
Oxford is absolutely going to be rocking Saturday afternoon and that is our biggest fear going into Alabama’s first road game. Last week, Bama suffered 10 penalties resulting from multiple alignment issues, formation issues, five false starts and delay of game penalties – all were pre-snap and happened within the friendly confines of Bryant Denny Stadium.
Vaught Hemmingway Stadium will not be friendly. It will be loud. Sure it only seats 65,000 fans but rest assured it will be deafening. Jalen Hurts will likely use a silent count which, on a good day, typically results in a few false starts for a well-oiled, seasoned offensive line. This Bama offensive line is anything but that.
Ole Miss’s defensive front is outstanding – in particular their defensive tackles are violent and disruptive. For Alabama to win this game, Bama’s offensive line is going to have to get their “ish” together. They’ll have to come off the ball on time – and not too late – and definitely not too early. And then they have to win their one on one matchups and pick up the variety of zone blitzes they’ll see. This is where the game will be won or lost. It really is just that simple.
In honor of Katy Perry’s epic appearance on ESPN’s Gameday in Oxford, here is what else to watch for when Alabama has the ball…
I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It: When Alabama scores, I score. I kiss my wife after every Bama touchdown or field goal…and I like it. Florida State struggled and still put up 45 points against Ole Miss, piling up 580 yards of total offense (419 passing & 161 rushing) and holding the ball for 43 minutes. The Rebels haven’t been attacked like that since the Death Star blew up Alderaan or Sherman marched to the sea. FSU eventually found their footing by spreading out the Black Bears and, with Ole Miss no longer crowding the line of scrimmage, the Noles own freshman QB skinned the Ole Miss secondary alive (more on this in moment). There will be huge points available this week, provided the offensive line can at least gain a stalemate at the line of scrimmage.
Teenage Dream: Jalen Hurts is Alabama’s own teenage dream and, barring injury, he should be the wire to wire QB this week. Did you know he has a better passing efficiency ranking than Chad Kelly? Did you know he’s the second ranked passer in the entire SEC? Yup! Look for Kiffin to roll Hurts out away from that nasty interior of the Ole Miss line and vary his launch points outside the pocket. In watching the WKU game again (yes, we here at the Lighthouse are complete geeks), Hurts’ poise in the pocket is impressive and probably underappreciated. We see him looking right, looking left and working thru his progressions and at his age that’s phenomenal. Also, we foresee Hurts escaping a blitz or two this week and picking up some big yardage on the ground.
Part of Me: Five turnovers cannot happen again. Not five, not four, not three, not two. A little piece of me will die inside each time we gift wrap a turnover to Ole Miss.
Rise: Look for Hurts to execute a play action fake and then rise up and fire the ball deep down the field. Incidentally, we are liking throws on first down this week. Florida State spread out three wide receivers and used play action and rollouts successfully on first downs. Also, the OM safeties bite hard on play action making it all the more effective on first down.
Firework: Hurts and Ridley executed numerous perfectly time hitches last week and there will be plenty of room on the outside for them to work the hitch route this week. The Rebel corners play waaaay off.
Roar: The roar of the Black Bear defense is between the tackles. Therefore, look for Alabama to attack the flanks of the Ole Miss defense, particularly in short yardage situations.
Dark Horse: A dark horse to excel this week is Damien Harris. Ole Miss’ linebackers play very deep in their zone coverages. FSU successfully checked the ball down to Dalvin Cook six times in the first half. This (and multiple blown coverages) eventually forced OM out of their favored zone and put them in man to man where FSU had their way with them. Point is, if the Rebs are playing zone, look for some checkdowns to Harris.
Wide Awake: The Rebels like to load the line of scrimmage with seven or eight men all showing blitz. At the snap, two defenders will bail into zone coverage but you never know which two. The offensive line will have to be wide awake as these zone blitzes (and late line shifts) are meant to confuse and overload one side of the line. Look for veterans Ross Pierschbacher and Alphonse Taylor to be in the lineup at LG and RG respectively this week in an effort to provide more experience in picking up this type of blitzing attack.
Starstrukk: Ole Miss safety Tony Conner is not healthy. He suffered a torn meniscus last season and he clearly hasn’t recovered because he was repeatedly beaten like a rented mule by FSU in coverage. After the game, Connor had his knee drained so what we saw on the field was confirmed in the locker room – his knee is not close to 100%. Look for Lane Kiffin to isolate Connor and mercilessly attack him.
- Ole Miss-alignment: Ole Miss misaligned their 4-2-5 several times, failing to slide anyone to the tight end side of the formation. The result was a few gashing runs by Dalvin Cook to the tight end side – keep an eye on this pre-snap. Identify the tight end and then look at the number of OM defenders to that side.
- Beware of Pulling Linemen: The Rebs blew up several running plays that required FSU’s linemen to pull. Beware of Rebel line slants that get upfield and knock down pulling linemen like bowling pins.
- Rollin: Look for Bama to roll Hurts to one side and then throw back against the grain to the other side of the field. Ole Miss blew three coverages on this type of play. Actually, they blew numerous coverages throughout the night with some guys playing man while others were playing zone. Eventually they dumbed down their coverage and went with “cat” coverage which is “you got this cat and I got that cat.”
- Fun Bunch: Alabama used a ton of bunch formations last week to the point where I just didn’t understand it. Then I watched FSU use and abuse the Rebel secondary with bunch formations and then it all kinda made sense…
- Red Zone: Ole Miss likes to rush four and drop seven defenders in zone coverage across the goal line when an opponent is inside the 10 yard line. Look for Kiffin to send a drag or a crossing route to draw coverage at the goal line and then he’ll have a receiver run a deeper in or post behind it .
- Up Tempo: Alabama will use the hurry up and go as fast as they can this week. The Ole Miss defenders were completely gassed against FSU and this negated their pass rush and probably caused communication issues in the secondary that led to many of the blown coverages.
- Clear and Present Danger: Florida State lined up a tight end and then flanked him with one wide receiver out wide. At the snap, the tight end cleared the hashmark area with a seam route or a deep out route, while the outside receiver ran an in route to the space vacated by the tight end’s route. He was open. All. Day.
Bama on Offense – Summary
Alabama will use the no huddle and go fast this week. Look for roll outs, bootlegs and plays attacking the flanks of the Ole Miss defense. The interior of the Rebel defense is outstanding and disruptive so the key the entire game is on the shoulders of the Bama’s big uglies up front – they must have a good game this week.
Alabama on Defense
When Nick Saban changed the way he recruited defenders three years ago, this is exactly the style of the defense he envisioned. Corners playing safety. Fleet footed linebackers. Edge rushers wreaking havoc on the outside while “quick twitch” ends were moved inside to disrupt the middle. Gone is the picket fence philosophy where Bama formed a wall and dared QBs to throw over it. In its place is aggression. Speed. Power. Today an attacking, get after the QB mentality rules the day and rules Bama’s opponents.
In 2015, Alabama led the nation with 53 sacks. Just two years earlier, in 2013 Alabama registered just 22 sacks ranking 80th in the country. My how things have changed on the field and in the coaching box for the Crimson Tide defense.
This relatively new emphasis on speed and on being disruptive is designed specifically as an answer to the Ole Miss offense and other spread offenses just like it. With a leaner, meaner defense, defenders can stay out on the field and withstand the increased pace of play. Also, the spread offenses are built to put their playmakers in space so it stands to reason that the defender’s athleticism must be equal to or greater than the man with the ball.
From the front line to the back line, Alabama’s defense is perfectly suited to stop the Ole Miss Rebels. Can they do it? Well, here’s what to watch for…
Tell Me Why: The Ole Miss RB with the last name Judd sure runs more like Wynonna than Ashley. The Rebels running game has no speed and doesn’t threaten the flanks at all. Instead, the Rebel offense seems to run entirely between the tackles. Follow the H-Back on the runs for wherever he goes, sweet Wynonna Judd is sure to follow. We think the longest Rebel runs will be gained by quarterback Chad Kelly when he breaks containment. *Historical Note: Hugh Freeze’s offense has never rushed for more than 100 yards against Alabama.
Pump It: The Alabama coaching staff had better be getting on their players LOUDER and LOUDER if they fall for the pump fakes of Kelly. Several Nole defenders looked downright silly falling for pump fakes as they jumped in the air for no apparent reason. When Kelly is pumping, Tide defenders better be staying on the ground and thumping.
Good Kelly: Chad Kelly has a big, big arm and he loves to show it off. He can get away with staring down his receivers and throwing the ball thru the smallest of windows. However, he also displays outstanding touch and can drop a ball into the waiting arms of a receiver with ease. If he’s given time, Kelly most certainly will carve up your defense, regardless of how fast and talented the secondary is.
Bad Chad: Yeah, so Kelly will tell you immediately who he is throwing the ball to because he begins staring them down as soon as he gets the snap. During the entire FSU game, I saw him come off his primary receiver less than a handful of times and, when he did, he threw incomplete or was sacked. Kelly is a gun slinger. There’s no window he won’t try to throw the ball thru, even if it’s closed – hence the four touchdowns and three intereceptions against FSU. You take the good Chad with the bad Chad.
Maneater: Watch out boys, Evan Engram will chew you up. So far this season he’s chewed up defenses to the tune of 11 catches for 164 yards. He’s certainly Kelly’s “go to” primary receiver and he works exclusively from the slot. FYI – if you see Engram go in motion, they will more than likely be throwing the ball to him. The Noles stupidly tried to single cover Engram during the first half and Engram fully took advantage with 7 catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, FSU played with a safety over the top of Engram, essentially double covering him and limited him to just two catches for 48 yards.
Slottie Pippins: Of Chad Kelly’s 39 throws, approximately 30 of them were thrown to receivers who were lined up in the slot. He threw a slant and a fade to his outside receivers in the red zone and he threw a handful of back shoulder shots to wide outs that were all incomplete. Every other pass was thrown to someone lined up in the slot.
Burnin’ Down the House: Florida State’s defensive line lit up the Rebels’ offensive line and backfield numerous times. Chad Kelly probably wakes up with night sweats and images of Demarcus Walker and his four sacks dancing in his head. Everyone along the Ole Miss line looked silly at one time or another. The left tackle gave up an inside pressure and a strip sack. The left guard was left standing still as Walker’s swim move left him in the dust. Later, Walker shedded the right guard like an old Members Only jacket. Then the right tackle was beaten around the edge a couple of times. Most of this occurred in the second half so we kind of wonder if the big uns along the Rebel line are out of shape.
Ludacris Speed: In the first half, Ole Miss’ tempo really impacted the Florida State secondary. The Noles had numerous blown coverages and miscommunication issues that were attributed to the speed of the Rebel attack. Alabama has prepared for this for a number of years but they typically seem to struggle with the pace at the beginning of the game. If Alabama can thwart the initial offensive drives then look for them to get into a groove defensively. If there’s trouble, we think it will happen early in the game.
- Averett: Similarly to USC and WKU, look for Ole Miss to go after Anthony Averett. We think the very talented true freshman receiver AJ Brown will be isolated on Averett and Kelly will look for him several times. Brown can play.
- Verticals: Alabama’s defense isn’t the type of defense that can be nickel and dimed to death, so don’t look for any 10 play drives against the Tide. Therefore, we believe Kelly & Co will be taking deep shots regularly. USC scored after a long pass and a pass interference. WKU also scored after a bomb (on a flea flicker). It’s coming.
- Tall Boys: Kelly loves to throw fades to his tall receivers in the end zone. Alabama will be anticipating this and we hope they turn around and play the ball.
- Unblocked Ends: Why these spread teams continue to leave Bama’s defensive ends unblocked is beyond me. Alabama coaches their ends to get upfield and attack the quarterback any time they are left unblocked and they do so with reckless abandon. We’ve been on this for two years now. Leaving Bama’s ends unblocked is offensive suicide. Perhaps this is the funeral Hugh Freeze was speaking of a few weeks ago.
- Do It Pruitt: This game should reveal the differences in philosophy between Kirby Smart and Jeremy Pruitt. FSU utilized blitzes from the safeties and linebackers against Ole Miss and we think Pruitt will do the same this week because he’s very, very aggressive.
- Don’t Run, Run, Run: As we alluded to earlier, the Ole Miss running game should not be a factor. They only rushed 25 times for 67 yards against Florida State…
- Tiny Tim: So we really haven’t seen much of Tim Williams or Rashaan Evans as they have been a tiny little part of the defensive game plan thus far. However, this is the type of game these guys should excel in. But will they get the chance?
The Alabama offense can do the Tide defenders a favor by holding onto the ball. If the defense is left out there to play a bunch of snaps in a row, the tempo of the game will be a problem. Nick Saban and his staff have found ways to substitute on defense and get their play calls in without disrupting the defense but if they are left out there to die then they surely will die.
Bama’s front four is far more dominant than Florida State’s front four and the Seminoles completely dominated Ole Miss up front in the second half. If the Tide can disrupt the pocket just by rushing four then they can commit seven to cover Evan Engram and friends. Given what we saw on film, the front four should be able to generate plenty of pressure. We like a strip sack by Tim Williams this week. Don’t you?
Alabama on Special Teams
The Lighthouse is diggin’ Trevon Diggs – he’s been fun to watch as a returner. This is a big game for the true freshman but he’s given us no indication that he is anything other than sure handed in the return game.
Poor Adam Griffith. I’d swear the kick that he hooked wide was headed right down the middle when he struck it. But then as I walked away from the screen, it took a hard left and was wide by a mile. Then on his next kick, I thought it was headed left again but then it suddenly straightened up!?! Man, I hope this game doesn’t come down to field goals…
JK Scott ranks 3rd in the conference with a an average of 46.7 yards per punt while Ole Miss is 10th with a 42 yard average.
The Rebels are 3rd in the conference in kickoff returns (27 yard avg) while the Crimson Tide is ranked sixth (21.75 yard avg).
Final Thoughts and Prediction
Rumors say that this week Alabama’s coaching staff posted scenes from the last two losses all over the locker room and the weight room. Rest assured the staff does not want to hear, “Hotty Toddy, gosh amighty the streak just went to three, hey!” And, from the players perspective, their lack of productivity against Western Kentucky reportedly called for a team only meeting after the game so they are clearly not satisfied with where they are as a team. Practice has evidently gone well this week so you can tell everyone on the Tide’s sidelines wants this game and they want it very, very badly.
Offensively, Lane Kiffin has once again mentored a new Bama QB to heights we haven’t seen before. True freshman Jalen Hurts is currently ranked second in the SEC in passing efficiency and has shown tremendous poise, leadership and big play potential. However, Hurts has been late and/or behind on several throws and the offensive line has been about as offensive as it gets (i.e. not good). Kiffin will have to find a way to settle down his true freshman QB during Hurts’ first road test while also finding plays that his offensive line can execute (and before Saban personally executes Kiffin on the sidelines).
Defensively, Alabama has everything they need to combat the Rebels’ offense. The front four should be able to generate plenty of pressure while the back seven can play coverage and read the staring eyes of Chad Kelly. The more hits they can inflict on the Ole Miss QB, the more rattled he will become. Without the fear of a running game, Saban and Pruitt should be able to mix and match coverages and blitzes without the fear or giving up anything on the ground. This is a huge advantage for the Tide. We do not see a three-peat performance for Hugh Freeze and the Rebels…
Final Score: Alabama 34 Ole Miss 17