Both teams will be in their nickel sets for most of the day. At their most basic, each runs a multiple 3-4 over/under defense. But execution has been an issue for Ole Miss. The Rebels rank last in the nation in total defense, and are nearly last as well in rushing defense, scoring defense and pass efficiency defense. Only in raw pass defense (61st) do the Rebels get out of the 70s. Alabama is 30th in total defense, a number that probably won’t be improving against Ole Miss’ effective offense, but the rushing defense numbers are solid (14th overall) and Alabama has shown the ability to take the ball away, ranking 13th there.
Ole Miss has yet to record a sack from a defensive lineman. That in itself is a problem, but the bigger problem is depth. Ryder Anderson, who is listed as the starting weakside tackle, is also the primary backup at the other two positions. Nosetackle K.D. Hill is a plugger, but offers nothing in the way of a pass rush. Anderson has all 3 QB hurries recorded by down linemen. Tariqious Tisdale will start at the tackle/end combo slot, and he has been far more active than Hill, ranking fourth on the team in tackles. Anderson has been in on a lot of key plays, but also has the tendency to disappear. Quentin Bivens, Hal Northern, LeDarrius Cox and Patrick Lucas Jr. are listed as reserves but Ole Miss has yet to get anything substantive from that group.
Alabama will start D.J. Dale in the middle, although Phidarian Mathis has been playing there more of late against more balanced offenses. LaBryan Ray and Justin Eboigbe will start at the end positions, with Byron Young and Christian Barmore coming off the bench. If Barmore is finally healthy this week, this is the kind of game he can feed on – weak middle of an OL, with just a token running game. This isn’t particularly close. If Alabama can keep Ryder Anderson contained, it’s a complete mismatch. Advantage: Alabama
Ole Miss has gotten decent production from a pair of players at the Buck position, which equates to Alabama’s Jack linebacker. Sam Williams and Tavius Robinson split the position and both will be on the field on passing downs. Inside, Ole Miss will rotate four players, with Jacquez Jones and MoMo Sanogo the two names to watch. Jones has been the most active of the Rebel linebackers and probably won’t come off the field much. Sanogo is the linebacker with real star potential. He’s especially adept at rushing the passer and causing general havoc. Lakia Henry and Ashanti Cistrunk will rotate with primarily Sanogo. Sanogo could probably play in Alabama’s rotation this year; the quality is there.
The Crimson Tide will start Christopher Allen and Will Anderson Jr. outside, with Ben Davis and Drew Sanders providing outside depth. Christian Harris and Dylan Moses are playing good football inside and will probably get all the snaps there that matter. Jaylen Moody and Shane Lee are the top inside backups. Ole Miss has done a good job here getting some potential playmakers on the field, but the Rebels need to make more plays behind the line and Sanogo is the only potential disruptor inside. It’s fair to say all four of Alabama’s starters could wear that tag, and Moses is a sure-fire top-of-the-first-round draft pick next April. Advantage: Alabama
Alabama’s results have been slightly better, adjusted for the competition, over last year – a good sign given the inexperience here. Patrick Surtain Jr. is the lone true veteran presence for Alabama; he’ll start at one of the corner positions with Josh Jobe getting the other.
Daniel Wright, who has already experienced some high highs and low lows in 2020, is the free safety with hard-hitting Jordan Battle getting the start at strong safety. The breakout player, at least as far as last week is concerned, is Malachi Moore, a true freshman who has locked down the Star safety slot and has been making plays all over the field. DeMarcco Hellams will play the dime spot.
For Ole Miss, Jaylon Jones is the primary safety and Keidron Smith the bellcow at corner. They’re 1-2 on the Rebel tackle sheet. Jakorey Hawkins will start at the off-corner spot with A.J. Finley and Jalen Jordan splitting free safety. The nickel position is in the hands of Daylen Gill. Ole Miss has shown the ability to play the ball and break up passes – the Rebels have 7 PBUs already, more than triple the number of their two opponents thus far – but run support is a significant issue. Neither team is getting quite what it wants from its respective group so far, but Alabama seems to be ahead by a few steps.
If Moore can continue to develop at Star, and especially if Wright can bottle up the second half of his Texas A&M game and repeat it going forward, Alabama will be fine. Advantage: Alabama
It’s going to be interesting how Alabama handles this group going forward, because there appears to already be some shuffling going on. Will Reichard has placement duties locked up, but Chase Allen has been kicking off and Reichard stepped in for at least one kick against Texas A&M. The big issue is at punter, where Sam Johnson hasn’t necessarily done anything wrong, but he’s far from being a strength of the unit. Ty Perine and Charlie Scott were both close to him coming out of fall camp, so it might be time to look at one of them.
Ole Miss’ Luke Logan has only attempted one field goal, a long one that he missed, but he has been perfect so far on PATs. His kickoff stats mirror Alabama’s somewhat. Where Ole Miss takes a strong edge is at punter, where Mac Brown is averaging 49.0 yards per punt. Ole Miss hasn’t returned a punt yet (which says something about its defense) but is one of the leaders in kickoff returns behind Jerrion Ealy.
Alabama has similarly been unable to get Jaylen Waddle unleashed in the return game. Until Alabama gets the punting situation cleaned up, it’s going to be hard to win a special teams comparison. Advantage: Ole Miss
Alabama leads in seven categories, with Ole Miss taking special teams, but the quarterback comparison is closer than most Alabama fans think and the Rebels probably have the edge there in depth if something happens to Matt Corral. As for the OL-DL matchups, it’s really a pair of mismatches, both in Alabama’s favor. The Crimson Tide strongly leads a comparison of its OL versus the Ole Miss DL, and holds a comfortable, if not dominating edge when comparing its DL to the Rebel OL.
Who knows what the weather will bring, but in a straight-up comparison of these two teams, Alabama should be a 20- to 30-point favorite. Ole Miss’ defense simply has not shown the ability to stop even a competent offense, and Alabama’s offense is far more than competent. The only thing that is going to keep Ole Miss in the game is a red-letter day from Corral, helped by Lane Kiffin’s knowledge of Alabama’s defensive alignments and systems. Unfortunately for Alabama, Corral is more than good enough to rise to that challenge, so the pressure will be on the Tide secondary to shut things down as well as the Alabama offense to keep scoring and not make mistakes – and especially, not put the ball on the ground.
The stat Alabama fans can take most solace in is red zone defense, where Alabama is 18th in the country (Ole Miss is 55th), as Alabama seems to get a lot more stingy in the shadow of a goalpost. As long as Alabama can keep Jerrion Ealy under control, especially in the red zone, Ole Miss will probably find it too difficult to keep up with Alabama’s scoreboard fireworks.
Ole Miss 24
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