Ole Miss preview: Rebels need a minor miracle to defeat Alabama

By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief

Oct. 12, 2011

 

Without trying to come down too harshly upon the football program, there’s a reason the Rebels were on the wrong end of a 30-7 beating at the hands of Vanderbilt: This team isn’t very good right now.

 

But Houston Nutt has had an extra week to prepare for Alabama, and Nutt always seems to have something in the tank for the Crimson Tide. Despite the fact that is overmatched, it would surprise no one if this game is closer than it should be, perhaps even within 10 points. Most championship teams seem to run into unexpected buzzsaws at least once during a title run, as Alabama did in 2009 against Tennessee.

 

If is to throw a wrench in Alabama’s plans, it has got to get better on offense. The Rebels looked improved against two weeks ago, but the Bulldogs weren’t exactly a collegiate Steel Curtain going into the game. The Rebels are a team in offensive flux, dealing with several key injuries, while Alabama has been a machine of late.

 

OFFENSE

 

Alabama runs a pro set, multiple in form and execution. also runs a multiple offense, but that’s not entirely by design. Nutt would probably prefer to run a traditional power-I and run the ball behind the Rebels’ massive offensive line, but that’s not the kind of team he has right now. Ole Miss has tried to cobble together elements of the spread, spread-option, pro set and probably a dozen other things, and what the Rebels have right now is a hot mess. The Rebels rank 99th in rushing, 108th in passing, 92nd in scoring and 114th in total offense. Alabama, meanwhile, is 19th in rushing offense, 22nd in scoring, 41st in total offense and has an actual philosophy.

 

QUARTERBACKS

Randall Mackey is finally available full-time for after missing the opener due to a suspension and then being a spare part for the first three games he had back. He threw for 214 yards last week against Fresno, but his greatest attribute may be his running skills. Mackey is small (5’11”, 190 pounds) and more akin to former Ole Miss QB Brent Schaeffer than Cam Newton. He’ll likely split time against Alabama with either Zack Stoudt, Barry Brunetti or both. Brunetti transferred in from West Virginia, but has yet to make an impact. He has struggled reading defenses and is too quick to run. Stoudt is a pocket passer, but is averaging a dismal 5.1 yards per attempt. He’s also not able to evade the pass rush. Alabama counters with A.J. McCarron, who is coming off a 4-TD performance against Vanderbilt and who is ranked 39th in the nation in passing efficiency. Phillip Sims is better than anyone the Rebels have, and he’ll have to wait until late in the game to get off the sidelines, barring an injury to McCarron. could build a package around Mackey’s rushing ability, but that’s the Rebels’ only hope here. Advantage: Alabama

 

RUNNING BACKS

is trying to work Brandon Bolden back into the lineup following a knee injury in the opener. For now, scatback Jeff Scott (68 carries, 350 yards, 5.1 avg., 5 TD) will get the start, with Bolden (23 carries, 105 yards, 4.6 avg., 2 TD) coming off the bench. Enrique Davis is also trying to come back from a leg injury, but he carried the ball only once last week and is averaging less than 3 yards per carry this year. H.R. Greer and E.J. Epperson will split the fullback role. Alabama counters with Heisman candidate Trent Richardson, who ho-hummed his way to another 100-plus-yard effort against Vanderbilt and a touchdown. Eddie Lacy will probably be available again this week, and together with Jalston Fowler, give Alabama a substantial edge in this category. Look for Scott to do some damage on the edge, particularly if Nutt used the off-week to put in an option package with Mackey; otherwise, there’s little comparison in the amount of damage Alabama can do compared to Ole Miss. Advantage: Alabama

 

WIDE RECEIVERS

wasn’t supposed to have much in 2011, but the emergence of true freshman Donte Moncrief (10 catches, 207 yards, 20.7 avg., 2 TD) has elevated this unit somewhat. Ja-Mes Logan (16 catches, 229 yards, 14.3 avg., 0 TD) is the leader of the group for now, but it’s Moncrief who has the better long-term potential. Beyond those two, there is Nick Brassell and not much else. Brassell has caught 4 passes for 98 yards (24.5 avg.), but the rest of the leading receivers are running backs. Tight end Ferbia Allen has caught a few passes, but isn’t a weapon. Alabama counters with Marquise Maze and Darius Hanks, both of whom are in double digits in pass receptions, and a deep field of backups that include Kenny Bell, Brandon Gibson, DeAndrew White, Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones. White had a coming-out party against Vanderbilt, but needs to get more consistent. The tight end duo of Michael Williams and Brad Smelley give Alabama a pair of true weapons from that position. There’s no denying Moncrief’s ability, and Logan is solid enough, but Alabama has better depth, and Maze is the unquestioned playmaker of these two teams. Advantage: Alabama

 

OFFENSIVE LINE

has a pair of fine tackles, led by preseason all- Bradley Sowell at left tackle and Bobby Massie at right tackle. If nothing else, they’ll protect the passer; ranks 3rd in the conference and 45th in the country in sacks allowed, despite having problems up the middle. A.J. Hawkins will start at center, while the guards will be Matt Hall and Patrick Junen. Those are the weak spots. Alex Washington and Emmanuel McCray give decent depth outside, but things could be better up the middle. Alabama counters with center William Vlachos flanked by guards Anthony Steen and Chance Warmack and tackles Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker. The OL unit has put together three solid efforts in a row against quality defensive lines after opening the season with uneven play. Alabama also wins the depth contest, as Alfred McCullough and John Michael Boswell provide experience inside and continues to impress at tackle. is – typically for a Houston Nutt-coached team – massive, but Alabama has played with better consistency and can do more things. Advantage: Alabama

 

DEFENSE

 

favors the 4-3 defensive front, which is as much a function of depth issues at linebacker as it is the preferred theory of defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix. But Ole Miss will also mix in elements of a 4-2-5 base. The Rebels have been acceptable in pass defense, 53rd in pass defense and 44th in efficiency defense, but rushing defense numbers have struggled (95th). The Rebels rank 86th in total defense and 54th in scoring defense. Alabama’s rankings read like a greatest hits record. The Crimson Tide is 4th in pass defense, 3rd in efficiency defense and total defense, and 1st in the country in both rushing defense and scoring defense. The Tide runs a 3-4 over/under scheme that is multiple and frenetic.

 

DEFENSIVE LINE

The Rebels have plenty of experience outside, where Wayne Dorsey and Kentrell Lockett start and Gerald Rivers and Cameron Whigham come off the bench. Lockett has been slowed a bit by injury, but Dorsey has put together a decent year both rushing the passer and dropping into coverage. Things aren’t as rosy inside, however, as Justin Smith and Uriah Grant start at tackle. Grant is a JUCO transfer and is having a nice first season, but depth is thin and there has been a lack of plays made from Smith’s slot. Two freshmen, Bryon Bennett and Carlton Martin, back up Smith and Grant. If Alabama can handle Grant, is in for a long day. The Crimson Tide counters with Josh Chapman in the middle and Damion Square and Jesse Williams outside. Nick Gentry backs up the nose position, while Undra Billingsley, Ed Stinson and Quinton Dial handle things at end. Chapman is having a particularly good season, as is Gentry. Ole Miss is probably stronger off the corner, but Alabama has an edge inside, as well as more depth. Advantage: Alabama

 

LINEBACKERS

Talk about mismatches. Alabama features Dont’a Hightower, C.J. Mosley and Nico Johnson inside, Jerrell Harris at outside linebacker and Courtney Upshaw, Adrian Hubbard and Alex Watkins at Jack. It’s the best LB group in the country at the moment, strong against the run and good in pass coverage as well. counters with a somewhat ragtag group that includes veteran Joel Kight at one spot and tackling machine Mike Marry at the other. When Ole Miss goes to three true linebackers, look for true freshman C.J. Johnson to be the third guy. For the most part, however, the Rebels have been staying in a 4-2-5 base with safety/linebacker hybrid Aaron Garbutt playing the rover role. True freshman Ralph Williams is pushing Kight and also can play when Ole Miss moves to multiple true linebackers. The issues here are inexperience and a lack of depth relative to Alabama, not to mention pure quality. Advantage: Alabama

 

DEFENSIVE BACKS

has done a decent thanks to a deep safety pool and experienced senior cornerback Marcus Temple. Temple and Wesley Pendleton start at corner, with Vincent Moss providing depth. At safety, the Rebels have five options, with Charles Sawyer and Frank Crawford ahead of Ivan Nicholas, Damien Jackson and Brishen Matthews, although Matthews might miss this game with injury. Alabama counters with Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie and Dee Milliner at cornerback and Mark Barron, Robert Lester and Will Lowery at safety. Ole Miss is one of the few teams as deep here as Alabama, but while the Rebels have done a decent job in pass defense this year, Alabama has been mostly lights-out. Advantage: Alabama

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Rebels lead the nation in punt returns, are 13th in net punting and rank 3rd in the conference in covering kickoffs. Only kickoff returns, where the Rebels rank 92nd, are a problem. Jeff Scott will be dangerous anytime he has the ball, and the Rebels expect Tobias Singleton to eventually break out on kickoff returns as well. Punter Tyler Campbell is 8th in the country in gross punting average, while kicker Bryson Rose is dangerous from any distance. Alabama counters with Cody Mandell at punter, Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley at placekicker and Marquis Maze as its top return man. The Tide is 7th in kickoff returns and 17th in punt returns, and Alabama covers kicks well, but the actual kicking has some issues at this time. Mandell still lacks consistency with his punts, and Shelley missed a point-after against Vanderbilt after being reliable all year. Worse yet, Foster got dinged up on kickoff coverage, and his status for this game is uncertain. Alabama has made strides in 2011 in special teams, but this is one area of play where rules the roost. Advantage:

 

OVERALL

 

Alabama leads in seven categories, in one. The Tide strongly controls both line matchups. On paper, this game should not be close.

 

However, one must not discount the magic of Houston Nutt. Alabama has been burned before by Nutt, and he’s especially dangerous when he has nothing to lose. Nutt is coaching for his job at the moment and would like nothing better than to knock Alabama out of the title hunt.

 

For Alabama to lose this game, would have to devise some kind of working offensive gameplan in a week’s time. Alabama should expect the Rebels to try to use the speed of Mackey and Scott to attack the outside of the Bama defense, and don’t be surprised to see every trick play in Nutt’s book Saturday.

 

With the game in Oxford, where funny things have happened in the past, expect this game to do one of two things: Either look for a tight game throughout with Alabama pulling away at the end, much like the Penn State game, or if the Rebels are already in the emotional tank, several funny bounces to pop up early allowing the Crimson Tide to put its foot down. Whatever happens, it’s not likely to be normal fare. Rare is it that games involving Houston Nutt are ever “normal.”

 

Alabama                27

Ole Miss                13

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