Roll Bama Roll is the SBNation blog of choice for University of Alabama sports, so we fired up the e-mail machine to ask a few questions before tomorrow’s game.
There’s a guy named Brent C. Taylor who was kind enough to ask and answer some questions with us.
Ole Miss and Alabama play Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on CBS. Currently, the Crimson Tide are 37.5 point favorites, but let’s be honest, we’re all just hoping it’s not that bad. We touch on booze sales, a prediction for the game, and who to watch out for that you may not have heard of just yet.
RCR: What is the general feeling for your fan base around booze sales and your continued prohibition? Do you want to pass judgment or feel jealous of the schools already pounding beers in the stands?
RBR: I think in general most fans hope Alabama starts selling beer at the stadium, but it’s not really something that’s been made a big deal out of. I definitely don’t think there’s much judgement towards other schools who have approved it (aside from a few fans here and there, obviously), and probably a little bit jealousy. That said, considering it’s been 95+ degrees and sunny for every game thus for Alabama, I’m pretty sure the last thing on the fan’s minds are a lukewarm beer to dehydrate them further. The sentiment will probably pick up in November as the temperature cools a little (and we might get that elusive evening/night game), but for now, it’s not a big deal.
RCR: Remember when Ole Miss won those two years in a row? How many blowouts will it take to make up for that?
RBR: To be honest, I barely remember what happened in the 2014 loss, other than our QB throwing to OJ Howard in triple coverage in the back of the end zone and getting picked off to end the game. And the 2015 loss, while quite painful at the time, wound up with Alabama winning a National Championship. So consider the blood debts from losses exonerated by the 2017 and 2018 blowouts. However, I don’t think I’ll ever totally get over Chad Kelly’s helmet-bounce-pass-while-getting-sacked-touchdown-play. That was some voodoo that’s only supposed to exist when playing at Auburn....not in our home stadium. So until Alabama manages to rip the Ole Miss heart out (you know, with Ole Miss thinking they’re about to win the game) with some lucky voodoo play, consider that one still unforgivable.
RCR: Who is the Alabama offensive and defensive player we don’t know by name already that we should?
RBR: Offensively, you probably already know them all, since Alabama returned pretty much their entire offense from 2018 minus a couple of running backs. The tight ends are pretty nameless, but that’s for a reason, and you probably shouldn’t need to know them anyway. So I guess I’ll go with Jaylen Waddle. The sophomore receiver gets a little overlooked behind the trio of juniors in Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, and Henry Ruggs III. Waddle is a smaller guy, generously listed at 5’11, but is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands. It gets lost that he was actually behind Jeudy for second on the team in receiving yards last year, and he’s been a monster as a punt returner when opposing teams aren’t just punting the ball directly out of bounds.
On defense, watch for cornerback Trevon Diggs. You might recognize that last name by his brother, Stephon, a top NFL receiver for the Vikings, but Trevon switched from receiver to corner for Alabama as a sophomore. He actually started for Alabama in 2018, and was on his way to becoming a mid-season All-American, but a broken leg cut his season in half, and he mostly became a forgotten name in the media. Now, though, he’s back as a senior and has been absolutely phenomenal.
However, if Diggs is a name you already knew, I’ll also throw out Jordan Battle. The true freshman safety was not in Alabama’s rotation of defensive backs to open the season, but has, over the past few games, worked his way into Alabama’s starting lineup in dime packages, and has even been in nickel as well. He’s young, for sure, but seems to always be around the ball on any given play. If there’s a fumble or deflection, don’t be surprised if the true freshman is the one who comes up with the ball.
RCR: How would you compare your team this year to last year?
RBR: On offense, Alabama’s passing game returns the whole crew, and Tua Tagovailoa is actually playing on two healthy legs instead of a bad knee and two sprained ankles. That, combined with new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s west coast passing approach (compared to last year’s vertical system) has done wonders for Alabama’s ability to deal with blitzes. With Tua so gimpy over the last 1⁄3 of 2018, everyone just blitzed him every play, and he couldn’t move fast enough in the pocket to buy time to hit those vertical shots.
On the other hand, the loss of seniors Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs has proven tough to replace in the run game. Najee Harris is the man now, and the former #1 recruit has all the talent in the world, but has struggled to find holes in the line of scrimmage and has looked very hesitant running the ball between the tackles. He got more aggressive last week and finally got over 100 yards in a game, but, hey, the Southern Miss defense isn’t exactly know for their run-stopping prowess.
Defensively, Alabama’s secondary is a couple of light years ahead of their 2018 version. Trevon Diggs is back, and Saivion Smith (the guy that D.K. Metcalf victimized for the opening touchdown last year...along with Justyn Ross in the national championship game....and... well... everyone that Smith tried to cover to be frank) is gone. Xavier McKinney is a play making veteran at safety, sophomore Pat Surtain is immensely talented, and seniors Shyheim Carter and Jared Mayden bring experience and versatility, if not as much athleticism, to the secondary.
On the other hand, the front 7 has been absolutely crushed by injuries. The Tide is up to 4 true freshman starting, and one of those for just got injured as well. Many more injuries, and it’s going to be walk-ons playing. Senior Anfernee Jennings has been a consistent pass rusher, but no one else has really made too much of an impact at getting into the backfield. Both inside linebackers are true freshmen, and while they’re explosive players with a lot of upside, they’ve consistently left wide open gaps and missed coverages as they’ve struggled to learn the defense on the fly.
RCR: What is your prediction for Saturday?
RBR: Not nice, that’s for sure. I hate to predict blowouts on opposing team’s websites, but this one doesn’t look like it is going to be pretty. Ole Miss just doesn’t have the offense to score on Alabama, and their defense, while quite capable of making big plays, also gives up a lot. Lets say 55-10 Alabama.