There’s an excellent article this week on ESPN.com that takes a deep dive into the Nick Saban-Lane Kiffin relationship, Kiffin’s history as Alabama’s offensive coordinator from 2014-2016, and Kiffin’s unique personality and makeup – sort of a court trickster coupled with Oscar Madison, multiplied by the mind-workings of a savant.
After reading it, you have a pretty good understanding of why Nick Saban hired Kiffin in the first place. You also gain a clear understanding of what happened to cause last year’s near-disaster in Oxford, and you’ll probably never again be comfortable when Alabama has to face Kiffin in any kind of competitive matchup.
In 2021, Ole Miss finds itself ranked 12th off a resume that features a solid win over a mediocre Louisville team, and two blowouts over Austin Peay and Tulane. Ole Miss then took the fourth week of the season off to prepare for Alabama. The Rebels seem to be getting the biggest bump to the resume off the Tulane win, which in turn was likely due to Tulane nearly knocking off Oklahoma in its season-opener. That Tulane win, by the way, has to look a bit less shiny given the Green Wave lost to UAB last week.
Still, this is Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss team. He knows the Alabama staff backwards and forwards, as well as Nick Saban’s process and tendencies. He used them to near-great effect last year. Is Ole Miss capable of upsetting a less-potent-than-2020 Alabama team in Tuscaloosa?
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Both teams run versions of a pro-style passing spread, although Ole Miss’ version has evolved further from its base ideas. Kiffin likes more fourth-down plays, uses more no-huddle and gimmicks, and has turned Oxford into his own experimental lab for crazy ideas. Ole Miss leads the nation in total offense, is 4th in rushing offense and 11th in passing, but again, has not faced a good defense yet. Alabama’s own output against Miami in the opener now comes with caveats as the Hurricanes have started to implode, but the Florida win was a high-quality matchup and Alabama then springboarded from that to a 63-point output last week. Alabama has struggled on the ground (79th overall) but is 16th in passing and 29th overall, and also boasts one of the nation’s best red zone offenses.
This is the closest you’ll see this category all year if you’re an Alabama fan, as Bama’s Bryce Young and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral are 1-2 (or 2-1) among SEC quarterbacks, all things considered. Given the difference in competition up until now, it’s hard to accurately compare them, but we know what the skill sets are. Both are mobile quarterbacks who have big-play ability. Corral takes more chances, but also makes more mistakes. However, he has a significant edge in experience over Young. Corral is 66-of-96 (68.8%) for 997 yards, 9 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in one less game than Young (88-of-122, 72.1%, 1,124 yards, 15 TD, 1 INT).
The two boast almost identical QB ratings – 188.5 for Young, 186.9 for Corral. Corral has been a far more effective runner than Young, but Young only attempts a couple of runs beyond scrimmage in games. As far as backups go, Ole Miss’ backup, officially, is either Kinkead Dent or Luke Altmyer. They’re a collective 2-of-7 (28.6%) for 7 yards.
In reality, we’ll be shocked if former backup John Rhys Plumlee, now officially a wide receiver, doesn’t throw at least one pass in this game. He’s already thrown one already this year, and Ole Miss will also use him as a runner at times. Alabama has a much better backup situation with Paul Tyson and Jalen Milroe, but we’re giving the benefit of the doubt to Corral based off superior experience alone. It’s still a tossup, really, but we don’t do ties around here. Advantage: Ole Miss
Kiffin likes to play a lot of players, and as such Ole Miss has what amounts to a four-back rotation. Jerrion Ealy and Henry Parrish Jr. will get the bulk of the carries, but Snoop Conner and Kentrel Bullock could also see time. And then there’s Plumlee, who will play all over the field. Alabama saw enough from this group a year ago to not want to see it again, but if there’s a weak spot, it’s that the red zone production of the starters hasn’t been great. Conner, the third-team back, has more touchdowns (3) than Ealy and Parrish combined (2); for that matter, Matt Corral has put 5 touchdowns on the board with his legs.
Alabama will start Brian Robinson Jr., who took the week off against Southern Miss. Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams had strong games against USM, and together with Trey Sanders, Alabama has far more star power than does Ole Miss. That doesn’t make the Rebels any less effective – the ranking of 4th nationally in rushing offense is testament to that – but with Corral playing such a part in it, it makes the question of who’s responsible for the Rebels’ success even harder to answer. We believe Robinson is fully healthy after sitting out a week, but we’re also not completely sure of that, either. In this comparison of production versus potential, we can’t overlook how effective Ole Miss has been, and depth is a push. Advantage: Ole Miss
Ole Miss’ production at the top – Dontario Drummond and Jonathan Mingo – holds up favorably when compared to Alabama’s John Metchie III and Jameson Williams. The difference is in depth. Ole Miss has gotten good supporting production from Braylon Sanders, but it hasn’t kept pace with the other two starters, and only one other true receiver on the roster has a catch (Jahcour Pearson). In addition, Mingo may be out for Saturday’s game, which would put more pressure on the reserves. John Rhys Plumlee is an option at slot receiver, but he’s been more effective as a switchblade out of the backfield.
Meanwhile, Alabama has two solid options at slot (JoJo Earle, Slade Bolden), along with production from Traeshon Holden and Javon Baker at the outside spots. Three Rebel tight ends have catches – Chase Rogers, Jonathan Hess and Damarcus Thomas – but they’ve combined for 7 catches for 31 yards (4.4 avg.) and 0 touchdowns. Alabama’s Cameron Latu and Jahleel Billingsley have racked up 14 catches for 250 yards and 6 scores. Kendall Randolph also gives Alabama a big blocker when it wants to get physical up front, and Robbie Ouzts has been effective in goal-line work.
The one thing for Alabama’s defenders to watch here is the physical size of Drummond and Mingo. Both are in the 6’2” and 225-pound range, making them stout by typical receiver standards. Alabama simply has more proven weapons and better talent among its younger players. Advantage: Alabama
For all the offensive production, especially the freestyling from QB Matt Corral, the numbers that stand out for the Ole Miss offensive line are sacks allowed (63rd) and tackles for loss allowed (44th) despite the level of competition the Rebels have faced. Utah transfer Orlando Umana will start at center, with Ben Brown and Caleb Warren at the guards and Nick Broeker and Jeremy James at the tackles. Bryce Ramsey will see time inside as a swing man. South Carolina transfer Jordan Rhodes will also likely play. Given two graduate transfers and some other position switching, it’s understandable that the line hasn’t completely jelled yet, but Alabama is not the team to be facing if the offensive line has issues.
For Alabama, Darrian Dalcourt will start at center with Javion Cohen and Emil Ekiyor Jr. at the guards and Evan Neal and Chris Owens at the tackles. Alabama has mostly played with the same unit for the entirety of the season, save for trash time. Given the performance this group had last week, changes at this point are unlikely. Advantage: Alabama
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