Here we go. It’s the SEC regular-season game of the year, since Alabama and Georgia won’t play in the regular season.
By Steve Wright
Ole Miss will try to get in the way of an Alabama-Georgia SEC Championship Game, and the key point to emphasize here is that Ole Miss might be the biggest obstacle to a Bama-Georgia showdown in Atlanta.
Look at the SEC West. Texas A&M’s place as the main challenger to Bama evaporated very quickly. LSU still doesn’t look particularly convincing, and neither does Auburn. Arkansas MIGHT be the toughest challenger to Alabama in the West, but right now it seems Ole Miss is the second-best team in the division.
We have to acknowledge that Lane Kiffin has finally grown up as a coach. Maybe his Ole Miss team isn’t fully ready for this moment, but we can still say that Kiffin learned a lot from Nick Saban. He learned from working as a coordinator and then as a head coach of a Group of Five program at Florida Atlantic. This is what he should have done to build his career and his knowledge base in 2009 and 2010. Instead, Tennessee gave him the head coaching job long before he was actually ready to be a head coach. USC gave him the head coaching job long before he was ready. Lane Kiffin needed to pay his dues, work in the salt mines (either as a coordinator or as a Group of Five coach, if not both), and then make the jump to a Power Five job when he had learned the lessons he needed to learn. That process was delayed several years, but not denied. Now Kiffin has an Ole Miss team which is putting up video-game offensive stats and might be able to threaten Alabama. If one team can keep pace with the Alabama offense in a shootout, it’s clearly Ole Miss. On to Saturday’s game:
1 – Go For Broke
No holding back. Ole Miss put 48 on Alabama last year and will probably need to score at least that much if not more to win here. This is a time to apply maximum game pressure to an Alabama defense which lacks linebacker Chris Allen and showed against Florida that it is far from a top-tier defense. Hugh Freeze beat Nick Saban multiple times because he was completely and utterly unafraid to be bold and aggressive. That’s the way teams have success against the Tide. Gus Malzahn was cut from a similar cloth. Fourth down and four at the Alabama 10-yard line on the first drive of the game? Go for it, don’t kick a field goal. That’s how this game has to be played by Lane Kiffin.
2 – Matt Corral’s moment
Be honest – did you really think two years ago, in 2019, that Matt Corral would be a serious Heisman Trophy candidate? His stratospheric growth and development under Kiffin cannot be denied. Now we get to see how high Corral’s ceiling actually is. This could be his Johnny Manziel moment, going into Tuscaloosa against the ultimate dynastic force in college football. Manziel did win in Alabama in 2012, en route to the Heisman, but that game wasn’t a shootout. Corral will have to win a shootout, and he has to know that scoring three touchdowns in the first half will merely represent half or even 45 percent of the work he has to do to win this game. Corral will need to play the game of his life, but his development as a quarterback shows that nothing is impossible for him.
3 – Third and fourth down
This point is attached to the previous two, but it bears special mention. On offense and on defense, Ole Miss has to own third and fourth downs. It’s self-evident, but it needs to be stressed, just because getting Alabama off the field – whenever Ole Miss has a chance to do so – is massively central to the process of stealing extra possessions from the Tide. On offense, if Ole Miss fails on third down, it can still maintain a possession by succeeding on fourth down. Matt Corral will need to make high-stress, high-pressure plays on third and fourth down if he wants everything he is pursuing this season. Everything is knitted together for the Rebels in their biggest game of the year.