For Ole Miss, this game is a unique opportunity which doesn’t come along very often. For Alabama, it’s just another important game a team has to win in order to win the SEC West, reach the SEC Championship Game, gain a chance to play for a spot in the College Football Playoff, and pursue the national championship.
By Steve Wright
Alabama gets every team’s best shot, and it is accepted as part of the challenge – and the glory – of playing for the Tide. Being the heavyweight team in the SEC comes with being the focus of the other 13 teams, especially the other six in the West. Every team measures itself against Alabama, so when Ole Miss (this year) or Texas A&M (last year) becomes the second-best team in the division, it is expected that the Tide will put that challenger in its place and retain supremacy in the division.
Every now and then, a superteam such as 2019 LSU has been able to bust up the Alabama dynasty, and occasionally, Auburn becomes a nuisance to the Tide in Jordan-Hare Stadium, but with very few exceptions, Alabama has been able to maintain its place atop the mountain in the SEC and the larger realm of college football.
Let’s see what the Tide have to deal with against Ole Miss and Lane Kiffin:
1 – Third-down and fourth-down defense
Alabama did not handle the Lane Kiffin stress test well last year, allowing 48 points. Given how fully Alabama’s run defense was shredded by Florida earlier this season, it’s fair to say Alabama doesn’t enter this game with supreme trust that its defense will hold up against the Rebels. This is a game in which leadership emerges. Alabama needs to find leaders who make special plays and elite reactions on third and fourth down. The Tide have to know that Lane Kiffin will throw the kitchen sink at them, which includes a lot of fourth-down conversion attempts. We will see how much this defense learned from the Florida experience and where the leaders are on this group.
2 – Make Matt Corral throw long passes from the pocket
Yes, it’s true that Hugh Freeze beat Nick Saban with the downfield pass, and it’s also true that throwing downfield has often been the way to beat Alabama. However, those realities coexisted with other details which don’t necessarily apply this year. Alabama used to have defenses which were tough against the run and weaker against the pass. The Florida game showed that Alabama isn’t that tough against the run, at least not right now.
Alabama wants its offense to get a maximum number of possessions in this game, so that its offense is in position to win. A best-case scenario is that Alabama’s defense flies around the field and controls Ole Miss for 60 minutes, but much like the 2020 SEC Championship Game against Florida, this game feels like a shootout. In a shootout, the worst-case scenario is for a defense to give up lots of touchdowns while also staying on the field and not giving the ball to the offense more often. Giving up an 80-yard touchdown pass isn’t desirable, but it does mean Alabama’s offense gets the ball right back and can wear down the Ole Miss defense.
Alabama needs to defend against the worst-case scenario instead of aiming for the best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that Matt Corral scrambles for first downs and long runs and keeps the Tide off balance with his dual-threat capability. Ole Miss can thereby run the ball (in an untraditional, improvisational way) and control more of the clock while still scoring.
As was the case last December against Florida, Alabama enters this game knowing it’s going to give up at least 35 points. That’s very likely to happen. Alabama will give up some chunk plays and lightning-bolt touchdowns. If the Tide can take away a few things from the Ole Miss arsenal, however, the Rebels’ margins are likely to shrink as the game continues. If Ole Miss can score and move the ball in many different ways, Alabama will lack the confidence to do anything at all against the Rebels.
3 – Half a Hundred
50 points would have been enough to beat Ole Miss last year. 50 points was enough to beat Florida in Atlanta last December. The Alabama offense, which averaged 48.5 points per game last year, should expect to hit half a hundred against Ole Miss and play its best offensive game of the year. This is the opponent against which Bryce Young and Company need to rise to the occasion. Other games might require more from the defense and a more mixed profile, but this is the offense’s game to win. Decisions made by Saban and Bill O’Brien need to put the offense in position to bring this win home.