TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 08: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide leads his team on the field to face the Vanderbilt Commodores at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 8, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
After an uneventful week off for the Rebels, Ole Miss is back in action Saturday for what should be a glorious afternoon of Groving...and football I guess. Instead of a preview, I'm just going to scribble down a few things I think are relevant or that the Rebels need to do to have a chance at winning. It won't be so much of a prediction because A) Y'all aren't dumb and B) I don't have a clue what we'll do anymore. I want to know what y'all think will happen.
When the Rebels are on offense
We all know that Alabama's defense is good. However, sometimes, I think we've gotten so used to the Tide having a good defense that we've forgotten just how impressive this squad may be. Out of the starting 11, seven players are projected to go on the first day of the 2012 NFL draft. From back to front, Alabama is absolutely loaded. LSU is probably the only squad that has comparable DBs, and even then, I'd still take the Tide's defensive backfield. Robert Lester and Mark Barron are headhunters, ball hawks and/or any other euphemism you can use for a good defensive back. Dre Kirkpatrick (6'3, 195) is huge for a corner while Dee Milliner and Dequan Menzie are both NFL caliber players. Linebackers Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower, Nico Johnson and CJ Mosley would all be the best defender for any team in the nation. Meanwhile, NT/DE Jesse Williams is an explosive man-beast up front.
So, I honestly don't know what we'll do. Personally, I think we'll have to come out passing to open up the run. I can't fathom a scenario where we come out and are able to run the ball right away. Alabama's D is absolutely suffocating against the ground game. The only hope you have against a Nick Saban defense is to keep them off-balance. If our offense gets into third and long situations (which WILL happen if we try to do that predictable "run-run-pass-punt" shit), we're toast. Reverses and tosses and sweeps and options shouldn't even be in the first half gameplan unless we're up by two scores. If we try to run horizontally against Alabama, I will stop watching. Jeff Scott and Nick Brassell are our only players that could realistically outrun the Alabama defense, and that's only if they're outside the hashes, without linebackers in their grill. If we get them in space, one-on-one with defenders, they'll have a chance. But if the best we can do is run a reverse with Brassell, a toss to Scott followed by a fade to Brassell, Alabama's defense will have a fun week of rest and relaxation. You find me a team that relies on slow-developing runs, and I'll find a team that can't beat Alabama or LSU. We simply must have the most innovative play-calling scheme we've had all season for Rebel fans to have any hope of victory.
When the Rebels are on defense
I swear to Scott Van Pelt, if we try to run that 4-2-5 bullshit, I'll officially be on the "Fire Tyrone Nix" campaign. I'd literally rather just run our goal-line defense and make Tide QB AJ McCarron beat us with his arm. If we come out trying to play honest, heads up defense against Alabama's offensive line, Trent Richardson will run up and down the field against us. Alabama's offense is as close to an efficient pro-style attack as there is in college football. Their first goal is to avoid mistakes and turnovers. They have enough trust in their defense that they will play the field position game and run a rather bland, conservative offense. When you have the workhorses that they do, you can usually wait for the other team to make mistakes.
Capitalizing on their conservative play calling will be the only way we can win. If we can beat the Tide on first and second downs, we at least have a chance. However, if Bama comes out and is ripping off seven and eight yard runs on first and second down, AJ McCarron will have plenty of opportunities to take chances downfield. That will stretch our defense which will open up running lanes, and then rinse and repeat.
One of our biggest pains has been a lack of discipline. Player suspensions aside, we're clearly one of the least disciplined squads in FBS. We average 7 penalties per game for about 70 yards a game, which easily puts us in the bottom third in the nation. We seem especially prone to penalties of the five yard variety when we're in 3rd-and-2 situations on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, Alabama is one of the most disciplined teams in the nation, averaging less than three penalties per contest for about 30 yards per game. We will have to have our best offensive and defensive performances of the season to have any hope of winning. Even if we have amazing play from both the offense and defense, 70 yards in penalties will crush our miniscule chances at victory.
Alabama 30, Ole Miss 6 (I would have said 30-3, but with an extra week of preparation, I think we'll get within FG range twice). I hope I'm wrong, but I'm also a realist. After watching the Tide the previous two weeks, I have no reason to think we'll hang close other than the fact that we usually play Alabama closer than expected.