Though Ole Miss will likely be torn limb from limb on Saturday night, there is a degree of satisfaction knowing Nick Saban’s daily lunchtime salad of iceberg lettuce, turkey slices, and cherry tomatoes wasn’t as adequate this week is due to the irritation caused by the silence of Ole Miss and an offense he struggles to solve. In the past two games against Alabama, Ole Miss has piled up 922 yards of offense and 79 points* on a defense with a two-deep roster of roughly 834 five-star players (give or take a few).
*Ole Miss scored 86 points, but one touchdown was via the scoop and score of noted defensive speedster John Youngblood.
Ole Miss’ offensive success, and any team that has beaten or challenged Alabama in recent years, isn’t complicated. One must have a dynamic quarterback (or a quarterback who is dynamic on that day), receivers who can make plays in one-on-one situations, and an ability to hit a few big plays. Other than that, IT’S PRETTY EASY (smh @ you, rest of the SEC).
Despite Ole Miss’ success, Alabama’s defense still makes it very hard for an offense to put drives together. It can be done, but their physical ability and aggressive nature shrinks the windows for success exponentially.
What I want to look at today is a smattering of the things Alabama’s defense does to make life so difficult for offenses like that of Ole Miss. Then, we’ll look at a few ways Ole Miss found a way around the challenges of not drowning in a sea of pattern-reading defense.
For starters, here’s what Alabama’s defensive personnel typically looks like.
The “defensive end” standing up is actually a linebacker, but the offense looks at him as a defensive end. You’ll notice the safeties are within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and inside the hashmarks (this will be important later). The safeties aren’t always inside the hashmarks, but this screenshot was the first one I took and therefore very convenient.
The first thing Alabama wants to do on defense is suffocate any sign of a running game. Their safeties are highly involved in this effort, always looking TO COME DOWNHILL, BOB, and blow up the running back before he gets the two yards you thought he was going to get.
This means the corners are often left to their own devices, which is basically saying your team’s receivers and quarterback aren’t good enough to beat them. Because Alabama devotes so many resources to making sure your team rushes for 2.1 yards per carry, they get multiple people to the ball in a short amount of time.
For example, the first play from last year’s Ole Miss/Alabama game. Ole Miss is running what looks like an RPO play, and Chad Kelly is in the process of making his read. Look where Alabama’s safeties and nickel corner are heading.
Literally, NO TIME HAS COME OFF THE CLOCK and they’re charging ahead, totally sold on the run. As a result, Ole Miss’ first play of the game goes nowhere.
Let’s see if Evan Engram was able to block four defenders.
Later in the game, another example of run-stopping zealotry.
The ball is maybe six inches out of Kelly’s hands on a toss to the running back and the linebacker and safety are on the way to wreck him.
Throw in a bad block on the defensive end, and things are now much worse than expected.
You would not be shocked to learn that play did not go well. However, remember this play for later.
Even when it comes to obvious passing downs, Alabama does not want you to have any of that sweet oxygen.
Alabama made an effort to make sure Ole Miss wasn’t punting from even the 25-yard line. I have no screenshot to prove it, but only by the grace of a SWAG scramble was Ole Miss able to gain precious yards before punting.
In terms of Alabama doing defense well, there’s one more thing that has plagued Ole Miss for MULTIPLE SEASONS. We saw it most recently against Cal, but any pass rush that involves a stunt/twist, whether it’s a defensive lineman stunting/twisting or a linebacker coming on a delayed rush in a stunt/twist fashion, it HASN’T GONE WELL FOR THE OLE MISS OFFENSIVE LINE.
They’ve struggled with this, particularly in the second half of games, and haven’t shown any indication they can handle these things. I know the Cal game was difficult because once Sean Rawlings went down with an injury in the second quarter, the Rebels were down to their third-string center* in Javon Patterson (thanks to an Eli Johnson injury in practice).
*Related, it’s no coincidence an offense can’t sustain drives when an inexperienced center is in charge of calling out protections, timing a snap count, and snapping the ball in a non-terrible fashion. But keep screaming about Phil Longo.
Based on what THA TAHD has seen on film, I would imagine they’ll do more of this on Saturday night.
They rush three defensive linemen (the LB standing up drops into coverage), and the linebacker loops in behind the defensive tackle who has driven down on the center, creating a lane to his left for the linebacker to power through.
In an ideal world, the center would either pass the defensive tackle off to the left guard, freeing him to deal with any other rushers, or the right guard would look inside and help, because the right tackle could handle the defensive end.
Did that happen? LOL.
This is what Cal threw at Ole Miss for 2+ quarters, and at no point did the offensive line figure it out. However, I feel fine about Alabama probably ignoring that significant flaw in their 400-hour film review of Ole Miss. SURELY.
Now that we’ve explored the space of how Alabama’s defense can wreck your business, let’s look at what can be done to combat their approach. As stated earlier, Alabama wants to ruin your ability to run, but that means you have opportunities down the field.
The issue becomes can you beat their 12-star defensive backs in one-on-one coverage. Here we see Alabama crowding the line of scrimmage. It’s first and 10, yet they are either confident it’s a run or convinced they can handle any one-on-one matchups down the field.
Ole Miss throws some play-action material their way, which sucks in the safety, and creates a receiver-versus-cornerback matchup on the outside.
If you have receivers who can make plays, this is what you want. The effectiveness of Alabama’s scheme and overwhelming talent are significantly reduced. It’s now a question of can your guy beat their guy, and no one is there to help.
In this case, it worked out pretty well.
Remember earlier (UGH, HOW DARE YOU MAKE ME RETAIN THINGS) when we looked at a toss play to Eugene Brazley that went for non-good yards? Well, here comes the long con.
Same formation from Ole Miss, but they’re going after the safety and cornerback whose mindsets are to destroy the run.
SWAG goes through the same toss motion, and everyone jumps at the chance to bury Brazley again. OH THE FOOLISH LIVES WE LEAD.
Only this time, SWAG pulls it back, taking advantage of their hatred for Brazley’s rushing yards total, and this is over.
The next screenshots don’t deal with an explosive play, but rather a glimpse at creating space for a solid gain. We see two linebackers obsessed with shutting down any running play, and a wide receiver facing solo coverage.
Ole Miss runs a fake toss to the running back, which sucks in the linebackers for half a second, and creates an ideal place for SWAG to throw the ball.
Finally, I mentioned earlier about Alabama’s safeties being inside the hashmarks. A general rule is if the safety is inside the hashmarks on one side, a throw to the outside is available.
Conversely, if a safety is outside the hashmarks, throwing to that outside part of the field is amazingly stupid because it’s so easy for him to get to that throw.
Alabama’s safeties line up in a variety of places, but on this particular play, one is rolling up on the line of scrimmage and the other is well inside the hashmarks. If you are SWAG, you know that safety has no chance to help on a well-thrown ball to the sideline on a vertical route.
The receiver goes vertical, which means he has to beat his man (CHECK) and SWAG needs to deliver a ball in a tiny window before the safety can close him down. RELATED: SWAG found that window.
I hate to be repetitive, but unless a quarterback can throw darts into tiny windows where receivers have won individual matchups, Alabama’s defense cannot be defeated. Ole Miss’ best hope on Saturday night is a version of the 2015 game. Multiple (MULTIPLE) (MULTIPLE) (MULTIPLE) turnovers from Alabama, and an offense with a hot quarterback that makes them pay for their aggressive nature.