1. Oh god. Your offense is frighteningly good. What’s making things work so well, and is there any hope for ANY team to stop them this year?
Well, a big chunk of it is just years upon years of exceptional recruiting. The trio of receivers, Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, and DeVonte Smith, were all at the upper four- to lower five-star range as recruits, and the three played second team with QB Tua Tagovailoa all of 2017 while Jalen Hurts and a bunch of seniors at receiver took all the first team reps. That gave those guys some tremendous chemistry together, and it’s showing so far in 2018.
As for the running backs, Damien Harris came back for his senior season and may well leave as Alabama’s all time leading rusher. Josh Jacobs has been his running mate for a couple of years as a change-of-pace 3rd down back. Plus, you also add in a sophomore Najee Harris, who was the No. 1 overall recruit a year ago, who now has a season of college experience.
Then you can add in an offensive line that returns three multi-year starters, with the two new starters on the right side being five-star recruits that got significant playing time last year before getting the start this year.
All that mixed together, and you get what might be the best offense we’ve ever had in the Nick Saban era. If new OC Mike Locksley plays his hand right, that designation just might be a runaway.
2.. Please, please tell me the problems with your defensive backfield haven’t been overstated. I’d like to see the Ole Miss receivers keep the game fun.
In a way, I’d say they’ve been overstated. The six top players in the secondary are all new starters, so everyone has expected some lumps. However, safety Deionte Thompson has looked like the best Tide safety since HaHa Clinton-Dix (in four games, including playoffs last year). Corners Trevon Diggs, Saivion Smith, and Shyheim Carter have all played very well so far as well.
The real issue, however, has been in the communication and zone passing of the middle linebackers and strong safety Xavier McKinney. Those guys have really struggled with blowing zone coverages in the middle-intermediate areas of the field to both Louisville and Arkansas State.
Many of the talking heads see the inexperience in the secondary and the relative step back in pass defense and assume it’s all on the defensive backs, but the issues have really all been in the center with the linebackers.
3. Are there some players offensively or defensively who Ole Miss fans may not know much about but will be impactful on Saturday? Why?
On offense, you have to start with Irv Smith. The junior tight end ran a 4.5 forty a spring ago, and has been slowly garnering more and more playing time over the past two seasons. The lack of TE usage has been a joke around these parts up until this season, where Irv has suddenly become an integral part of the passing game. He’s been extremely deadly on crossing routes where he can use his speed to really put a trailing linebacker at a disadvantage, and has also been doing some damage on wheel routes-- again, isolating him deep with a linebacker.
Defensively, DL Quinnen Williams is the man to watch out for. The DT is a bit undersized, compared to the usual Bama behemoths, but has been a one-man wrecking crew so far this season, particularly in the pass rush. He’s quick and compact, so his initial bull rushes are particularly effective against bigger and taller offensive linemen. While many of the other players have been a bit of a disappointment in Alabama’s pass rush so far, Williams has picked up the slack nearly all by himself.
4. Every off-season it becomes trendy to talk about how Alabama might be on the cusp of ending its dynasty. That doesn’t appear to be the case. What, aside from good players and coaches, is in place to help the team from an institutional standpoint, and is it sustainable when Saban leaves (hopefully very soon)?
At this point, some of it is pure brand name. Many of the recruits right now can’t even remember a time when Alabama wasn’t at the top of the NCAA. If you want to play with the best and get a boost toward the pros, you come to Tuscaloosa. When Saban retires, that alone will likely (at least somewhat) sustain the success for another year or two. Ultimately though, you can’t replace Nick Saban. And this team will have a major setback after he leaves, no matter what coach gets hired in his stead.
5. What’s your prediction for the game? Give a score and how it gets there.
Between the Ole Miss defense and the newly-enhanced Alabama offense, I have trouble seeing the Tide scoring under 45 points unless Saban just really lets off the gas early. My prediction is going to be 52-21.
I think Ole Miss scores first after Alabama comes out flat on the first drive, but the Tide scores 21 points in the 2nd quarter to make it 24-7. The third quarter is a bit contentious as Ole Miss cuts the lead to 10 points at the beginning of the quarter, but Alabama goes on to score 21 unanswered and put the back ups in. Ole Miss takes one more score, as does Alabama, in the waning minutes of the game.