Alabama starts the slow grind of their SEC schedule this week in Tuscaloosa against Ole Miss. The Rebels will come into Bryant-Denny Stadium with the most confidence they have had in years, spawning from a top-ranked recruiting class and a quarterback-coach combination that is finally hitting its stride.
Alabama has yet to put all three phases together in one game: Against Virginia Tech, Christion Jones and the special teams dominated and the defense was solid; Against Texas A&M, the offense was almost flawless and the defense had issues (But what defense doesn’t have issues with Johnny Manziel?); And against Colorado State, the offense sputtered and was out-of-sync all day while the defense didn’t allow anything more than two field goals.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban focused on the positives this week and said that, after a week in practice, the team was looking good and will be prepared for the game.
“It’s a huge challenge for us. We need to execute and play with a lot better technique, fundamentals,” Saban said. “We expect this to be a tough game and we look forward to the challenges.”
Alabama will also be emotionally ready for this game. They didn’t take Colorado State too seriously and were recovering from the cathartic overload against Texas A&M. This is an SEC game, at home, at night and Nick Saban will have his team ready to play.
Though Ole Miss doesn’t fear the defending champs, Alabama has won nine straight games against the Rebels, and is 11-0 against them in Tuscaloosa since 1988.
Before you sit down to watch the game at 5:30 p.m. Central time on ESPN, here are some keys to the game.
Alabama needs excellent defensive backs play against Ole Miss’ offense:
The Crimson Tide have had their issues with hurry-up offenses in the past, especially ones led by quarterbacks named Manziel, and Ole Miss uses a similar up-tempo style of play. Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace and wide receivers Laquon Treadwell and Donte Moncrief will try to put up points on Alabama’s sometimes suspect defensive backs.
“Yeah, I think we can put points on them,” Wallace told AL.com. “I think we can put points on anybody.”
Wallace was quoted earlier in the week saying that Ole Miss should be compared to A&M.
“I think we have better receivers than A&M,” Wallace told AL.com. “They want to talk about Mike Evans being so good, but we have Donte and I think Laquon is going to be that way. We have better players on the outside than A&M does.”
While Alabama’s Nick Perry has been ruled out for the season, Deion Belue and Jarrick Williams are scheduled to return from injury this week, which will help in trying to slow down Hugh Freeze’s offense.
Alabama’s run game needs to be great against Ole Miss’ defensive line:
Alabama has struggled to produce the same total domination through their run game like they have in years past. Before the win over Virginia Tech, the Crimson Tide had gained at least 100 yards rushing in every game since the loss to LSU in 2011. They amassed a total of 66 rushing yards against Colorado State, and that won’t be enough against a team like Ole Miss.
The Rebels have a stout defensive front with true freshman defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche and his brother Denzel, who is their best defensive player, is returning from injury himself after missing the past two games with a knee injury.
Like against Texas A&M, Alabama needs to keep its offense on the field for long, methodical drives and keep its defense fresh and on the sidelines, matching Ole Miss’ speedy offense point-for-point.