It's been 18 years since Ole Miss beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. And while some might point to last year's 23-17 axis-tilting upset in Oxford as a sign that the universal balance has shifted, other folks will argue that it's just another harbinger of a sealed fate: not once in its football history has Ole Miss beaten the Tide in consecutive seasons.
But those type of broad, historical trends don't mean shit once you step onto the football field. They're the type of irrelevant but easily digestible tidbits that ESPN personalities use as crutches to limp through 30-minute segments. The same could be said of the Revenge storyline: does anyone genuinely think that Alabama needs extra motivation to win a game that could decide the SEC West?
More Ole Miss-Bama stuff
More Ole Miss-Bama stuff
No, football is about Xs and Os, and on that front, Ole Miss is a serious threat to knock off the second-ranked Tide and become the de facto favorite to win the division. The Rebs shutdown secondary could cause all kinds of trouble for Jake Coker, who's shown faulty decision making through two games. Robert Nkemdiche, Marquis Haynes and the rest of the D-line could wreck havoc against the right side of Bama's offensive front. And Swag Kelly's big arm pairs with a ridiculous array of vertical threats that will test the Tide's at-times-shaky secondary.
On the flip side, a (likely) Tunsil-less Rebel O-line could get blown up by Bama's other-wordly defensive front and Derrick Henry could be a problem for an Ole Miss D-line that struggled at times last season against the power run.
This should be a helluva game. Here's a primer to get you ready for it.
Four pretty neat stats
- For as dominant as the Bama D-line is, they haven't created many negative plays: they have just seven tackles for loss (112th nationally) and three sacks (75th) through their first two games. That's potentially good news for an Ole Miss squad that can't afford to play behind the sticks without Laremy Tunsil.
- The Rebel offense ranks third nationally in plays of 20 or more yards (18) and second in plays of 50 or more (5). This unit has made a living off of the big play, but it's going up against a Bama defense that's given up just five plays of 20-plus yards and not a single gain over 30.
- Bama has converted just eight of 24 third down attempts (33 percent) this season and its two QBs have combined for a third-down passer rating of just 77.81, second worst in the SEC in front of Auburn (lol Jeremy Johnson).
- Bama kicker Adam Griffith, who missed two kicks against the Rebs last season, has botched all four of his attempts in 2015.
Three bros to keep an eye on
- Jake Coker started the first two games for Bama, but he still hasn't technically put away the quarterback competition with Cooper Bateman. After shoddy outings from both guys against MTSU last week, Saban refused to commit to Coker as the main man and suggested that we could see both QBs on Saturday. Hopefully we'll see more terrible decisions to throw into double coverage.
- Evan Engram has just one catch for five yards through two games, but don't expect the SEC's best tight end to stay quiet for long. He led the Rebs with 71 yards last year against Bama, and two of this three receptions were key first downs on second-half touchdown drives. Expect the Ole Miss staff to use creative formation schemes to get him matched up on linebackers and safeties.
- Brandon Greene, a 300-pounder who's spent a good bit of his time in Tuscaloosa as a blocking (and sometimes receiving!) tight end, could get the start at right tackle. That position has been a problem for the Tide, which watched Dominick Jackson fall apart in pass protection last week. Which has Marquis Haynes like:
Just tweeting this so I can use it in a highlight http://t.co/BFRB0LKcWz— Jeff Gray (@Jeff_GraySBN) September 19, 2015
Two questions that need answers
- Can the Ole Miss O-line generate a running game against Bama's front seven? We're still waiting for officel word on Laremy Tunsil, but the ESPN report released this week doesn't sound too promising. Sure, Ole Miss leads the conference in rushing after two games without him, but now they have to face arguably the most loaded defensive front in college football (DT A'Shawn Robinson, LB Reggie Ragland, DE Jonathan Allen and DT Jarran Reed are all projected to go in the first two rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft). The Rebs won last year despite averaging 2.4 yards per carry, but it's asking a lot of Swag Kelly if the ground game doesn't improve this time around.
- Can Bama cover Ole Miss' receivers? Quincy Adeboyejo and Cody Core have combined for 329 yards and six touchdowns this season. Makell Pack and Damore'ea Stringfellow are physical freaks who are poised for breakout seasons. And oh yea, the Rebs haven't even needed their All-American combo of Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram. With defensive back Maurice Smith dealing with some stinger issues, the Tide are going to have to play three freshman in their dime package. That spells trouble against a Rebel receiving corps that can put five true vertical threats on the field at any given time.
One ballsy prediction
For as many advantages that Ole Miss has, I'm just not sure it can overcome its biggest disadvantage: the offensive line. If Bama's front can shut down the running game like it did last year, all of the pressure shifts to Chad Kelly, who, let's not forget, is making his first SEC start ... on the road in Bryant-Denny.
REBS 24, TIDE 21