In yet another “2020 thing,” Alabama’s matchup with Ole Miss this week depends on the meanderings of a hurricane that some people probably think is named for an airline.
It’s named for a letter of the Greek alphabet, of course – the letter Delta. So Delta is now threatening the Mississippi Delta. And that might cause Alabama and Ole Miss to use Delta to fly somewhere dry to play this game, or the SEC will have to shuffle the season and Alabama will probably end up losing its pre-LSU off week as a result.
Now that we’re fresh out of puns, here’s the scoop on the game: If Vaught-Hemingway Stadium remains playable on Saturday, look for Alabama to record a comfortable victory over yet another team coached by a former Nick Saban assistant who is trying to turn the fortunes of a program that has been listing like the post-iceberg Titanic for several years now.
Lane Kiffin has already ginned up excitement in Oxford over his team, which has displayed surprising offensive prowess already and recorded an overtime win over Kentucky in the process (a week after giving Florida a better game than anyone expected). Kiffin’s problem is his team currently has no defense, and in comes an Alabama team with more weapons than the 101st Infantry.
The last time Alabama faced Lane Kiffin as a head coach in the SEC, he brought a scrappy Tennessee team into Bryant-Denny Stadium and if not for the big paws of Terrence Cody, may well have knocked Alabama out of the 2009 national championship hunt. Expect Kiffin to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Alabama this time out.
Kiffin’s fingerprints are on both offenses, as Alabama’s current pro-style offense is derived from the same system Kiffin originally installed here, but Ole Miss is a bit more multiple because it has two mobile quarterbacks and Ole Miss can’t rely on raw athleticism at every position. Ole Miss is 5th in total offense and Alabama 15th. The Rebels rank 4th in passing offense and Alabama 5th. Ole Miss is 42nd in rushing offense and Alabama 64th, a figure that is fairly horrid for the Crimson Tide, all things considered, as there are only 74 teams playing football right now.
For whatever reason, Matt Corral was on the verge of getting lost in the shuffle under the previous Ole Miss staff. John Rhys Plumlee had taken over the job based on his slightly superior scrambling ability, but Corral is no stick in the mud. To that point, Plumlee has rushed 9 times for 20 yards this year while Corral has carried 26 times for 101 yards. Those aren’t Michael Vick-type numbers, but they’ll do. Whether Plumlee plays in this game is not yet known, but Corral is having the kind of season people predicted for him after seeing his freshman debut two years ago.
Kiffin’s challenge with Corral is the same as it was for the previous staff: Get him to play within himself and not make boneheaded mistakes, or get too amped up for his own good. So far, so good: Corral is 46-of-60 (76.7%) for 715 yards, 7 touchdowns and just 1 interception. Combined with his rushing numbers, he’s a legitimate dual-threat quarterback and Alabama will have trouble with him.
Alabama counters with Mac Jones, who is having a career year with numbers that stack up to Corral’s, at least through the air (38-of-51, 74.5%, 684 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT). Corral’s success against two SEC defenses, combined with Plumlee giving Ole Miss an experienced backup while Alabama will be using a true freshman, Bryce Young, almost puts Ole Miss over the top in this category. For that matter, we’d call it a push if we didn’t absolutely have to pick a leader. But Jones’ steadiness over the last of the 2019 season and his 2020 start, coupled with Corral’s somewhat erratic past performances, makes us pick Alabama by the slimmest of margins. Advantage: Alabama
Ole Miss has superior numbers right now, mostly due to the contribution of Corral on scrambles, but the talent level isn’t close to equal between the two teams. Jerrion Ealy has rushed for 4.7 yards per carry and scored twice, but his longest run from scrimmage is 18 yards and at 5’8” and 190 pounds, isn’t the ideal back for this offense. Snoop Conner and true freshman Henry Parrish Jr. are the backups, but neither has made a mark yet. Almost half of Conner’s yardage came on one long run and he still averages just 3.2 yards per tote.
Alabama will use, primarily, Najee Harris, with Brian Robinson Jr. as the top backup. Harris has similar overall numbers to Ealy, but he’s a more complete back and more dangerous in the red zone, with 5 touchdowns so far. Both Ealy and Harris are capable receivers. Robinson gives Alabama a second big back, and if he can build off his fine performance against Texas A&M last week, he’ll be more than just a guy who gives Harris a blow.
Trey Sanders and Jase McClellan, who got his first carry last week, form up the second group. Neither team uses fullbacks, opting for tight ends when an in-line blocker is needed. Not particularly close here. Advantage: Alabama
Most of Ole Miss’ production to date has come from Elijah Moore, whose 20 catches are more than the other receivers and starting tight end put together. Moore is a smallish junior who has been highly effective out of the slot, catching 20 balls for 319 yards (15.9 avg.) and a touchdown. The other starters – Dontario Drummond, Jonathan Mingo and tight end Kenny Yaboah – have 18 total catches among them, but have combined for 6 touchdowns and Yaboah, a graduate transfer from Temple, has been a revelation as a downfield receiver.
Kiffin is at his best when designing ways to open up routes, and Corral has been able to stay patient and hit the open man. Ole Miss actually has some decent experience coming off the bench, but those players haven’t produced yet. Braylon Sanders, a senior, is bound to get involved at some point.
Alabama counters with three potent weapons at receiver – DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and John Metchie III – and starting tight end Miller Forristall has value as a receiver as well. Like Ole Miss, we haven’t seen much yet from Alabama’s backups, with only Slade Bolden getting any kind of playing time.
Things are a bit different at tight end, where Carl Tucker, Kendall Randolph, Cameron Latu, Jahleel Billingsley and Major Tennison have all seen the field. Alabama will have to contend with Yaboah, but Ole Miss will have much more on its plate defending Alabama’s multiple weapons. Advantage: Alabama
Ole Miss’ offensive line was already in need of rebuilding, and then returning center Eli Johnson opted out of the season over Covid concerns. That has left converted guard Ben Brown in the center position, and the two guards are redshirt freshmen, Reece McIntyre and Jeremy James. Jalen Cunningham, somewhat surprisingly, did not win a starting job despite good reviews in 2019, including a game against Alabama in which he played quite a bit.
At tackle, Ole Miss has one bona fide prospect in right tackle Royce Newman, while sophomore Nick Broeker could be another if he continues to develop at left tackle. But to this point in the season, the offensive line has been a sore spot for Ole Miss. The Rebels are toward the bottom of both tackles for loss allowed (61st of 74 teams) and sacks allowed (50th). Other than having Cunningham available at guard, none of the other depth options are particularly overwhelming.
Alabama’s offensive line has been fantastic at pass blocking (22nd in sacks allowed, 2nd in the conference) but has had a few issues handling run blitzes. Where Alabama has been terrific, though, has been blocking in the red zone. Landon Dickerson will start at center, with Emil Ekiyor Jr. and Deonte Brown at guard and Alex Leatherwood and Evan Neal at tackle.
Like Ole Miss, depth hasn’t come together yet but Alabama has more experienced players along its second line. Ole Miss is more vulnerable up the middle, by several degrees compared to Alabama, and Bama’s tackles are elite. Advantage: Alabama
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