Well, we are now less than 24 hours away from kick-off in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, so here goes the Ole Miss preview.
Alabama comes into Oxford sporting a 4-2 record, and the home-town homers cannot really complain about that fact. After easily jumping out to 2-0, the Tide has since played four consecutive games that all came down to either overtime or the final minute. In those games, we've won two and lost two, that's about all you can legitimately expect. Unfortunately, the Tide really doesn't have any momentum going into this game. We lost two straight to Georgia and Florida State, and though we did beat Houston, Rashad Johnson summed it up best when he said that it felt like a loss. All told, we've played consistently worse each with since the Arkansas game.
As for how this games fit into the whole season for the Crimson Tide, it's a big one to say the least. We're 4-2 at the moment, with three winnable games (Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Louisiana-Monroe), and three games were we are going to be very much facing an uphill battle against Tennessee, LSU, and Auburn. Obviously, if you lose any of the three winnable games, we're in big trouble. If you drop one of those games and then can't compensate with an upset over the big three, you're going to be 6-6. On the other hand, if you can win the three winnable games, you've got 7-5 in the bag and then you are in position to have a good season with an upset or two somewhere along the line.
For the Ole Miss Rebels, they come into this game 2-4, but honestly they are a bit better than that. No they aren't a great team, or even a particularly good team for that matter, but they are better than the 2-4 record indicates. The schedule for them has been particularly tough, as they picked up Missouri on the out-of-conference schedule, and Florida on the inter-divisional SEC schedule. To date, the only really disappointing game that they have had came against Vanderbilt when they lost fairly handily to the Commodores. With Northwestern State and Mississippi State still on the schedule, the Rebels still have an outside chance at a bowl berth. A win over the Tide could put the Rebels one upset away from their first bowl berth of the post-Eli Manning era.
Beyond that, Ole Miss and Ed Orgeron is currently a program and a coach in search of a big win. This is Orgeron's third year at Ole Miss, and to date he has only racked up nine wins (only three of which have come over BCS conference opponents). But don't let that fool you too much, this Ole Miss team has been competitive, and they have been this close to getting that win on numerous occasions. A year ago, they lost to Georgia 14-9 after a wide receiver dropped a game winning touchdown pass, 20-14 to Auburn when Brent Schaeffer threw an interception returned for a touchdown, 26-23 to Alabama in overtime, and then again in overtime against LSU when the Bayou Bengals had to score a touchdown on the final play of the game as time expired. This year has been somewhat the same. Ole Miss overcome a big deficit to make it close with Missouri, lost narrowly 30-24 to Florida, and was tied with Georgia 17-17 going into the fourth quarter. They haven't been able to quite get the win they are looking for just yet, but they have been very close.
Alabama Offense v. Ole Miss Defense
On defense, Ole Miss had been nothing short of atrocious thus far. At the moment, they are last in the SEC in pass defense, last in the SEC in run defense, and last in the SEC in total defense. Get the idea?
So, theoretically the Crimson Tide offense should be able to move the ball with ease against the hapless Rebels defense. Obviously, theoretically is the operate word in that sense.
The truth is, as bad as our offense has been this year -- sans the Arkansas game -- nothing is a given. It really doesn't matter how bad of a defense we play, offensive production (i.e. points scored) is going to be quite lean until the offense gets it together. There's nothing really that in-depth to analyze here, Ole Miss' defense is very bad and we should be able to take advantage of it and score a good number of points. Just don't hold your breath for obvious reasons.
Alabama Defense vs. Ole Miss Offense
Now here is where it may get interesting.
All you hear about Ole Miss is how poor they are on offense, and how they are struggling in so many offensive categories. The truth of the matter, though, is that this Ole Miss team is a bit of a concern on offense.
Quarterback Seth Adams is a walk-on, and thus gets all of the acclaim that normally goes to a walk-on, but he has played really well for the Rebels. At the moment, he sports a QB Rating of 130.6, which is good for fourth in the SEC. That 130.6 rating puts him ahead of the likes of Matthew Stafford, Matt Flynn, Brandon Cox, and yes, John Parker Wilson. Moreover, it's not just a bunch of yardage racked up against the Sisters of the Poor, either, as evidenced by Adams' 300+ yard performance against Florida three weeks ago.
Ole Miss, unlike Alabama, also brings a deep threat passing game to the table. In particular, wide receiver Mike Wallace has been nothing short of outstanding so far this year. If you recall, Wallace was the receiver who burnt Ramzee Robinson for a 55-yard touchdown reception on an out-and-up a year ago that forced overtime in Tuscaloosa. Sufficed to say, he's only improved this year, as he has 24 catches for 534 yards and 5 touchdowns. You crunch the numbers and you see that he's averaging over 22 yards per catch, which is just an ungodly statistic. Obviously, they can stretch the field.
The running game, too, has a lot of potential. BenJarvus Green Ellis ran for 1,000 yards a year ago, and he's on pace to run for 1,100 this year. He's had a couple of disappointing games this year, but he's also done extremely well at times, too. Against Missouri, he ran for 226 yards, and against Georgia he went over 100. He's not the second coming of Bo Jackson, and he's no Darren McFadden, but the kid can get it done.
When you put it all together, Ole Miss poses a serious threat to us on offense. They throw the football efficiently, and they can stretch the field vertically in the passing game. Moreover, they've got a good tailback and they can run it well on the ground. What else do you need?
And some people will point to their struggles last week against Louisiana Tech. Well guess what? We're not Louisiana Tech, and you can rest assured that Ole Miss won't play commensurate with that level of competition. The Rebels have a pretty good offense and they can put points on the board (see 25 against Missouri and 24 against Florida), and we should expect them to come out playing hard.
As a result, our defense has got their work cut out for them.
All in all, our defense has played pretty well this year and has far exceeded expectations. That said, the harsh truth remains that they are still a unit in a completely new system, and they still have essentially no depth. Hopefully our guys will be able to really put the clamps on the Ole Miss offense -- and given the struggles of our offense, they may have to -- but given the inherent shortcomings that these guys have, the defense is going to be a bit of a concern.
Don't be surprised if you see the Rebels score more points than you expected them to in this one. This isn't like the impotent Ole Miss offenses that you have seen the past three years.
Putting It All Together
So what does it all mean? Obviously, that's the hard part to figure out.
All in all, we have more talent, depth, and experience than the Rebels do, and I think it's a given that our coaching staff is better. Moreover, our offense should march right through their porous defense, but unfortunately the odds are likely that the offense will sputter yet again. As a result of that, you can probably rest assured that this game -- sigh -- is going to be much closer than it should be.
On the other hand, our defense looks pretty good and should again do relatively well on Saturday. That said, the Ole Miss offense isn't that bad, and if they could put up 25 points against Missouri and 24 against Florida, you can almost bet that they are going to put up a fair amount of points against us.
When you put those two things together, the odds are that this is going to be a close contest, and unfortunately it could really go either way. We really cannot afford a loss in this game, but failure is always an option, and the harsh truth is that we may be making the late-night trek to Tuscaloosa with a 4-3 record. Hopefully that's not the case, but I would be lying if I were to say that's not a legitimate possibility at this point.
Again, reiterating what I said in the predictions article, this is a game that we should win with relative ease on the heels of our offense putting up a lot of points at the expense of their defense. But again, that's not likely, and it's probably going to be a close contest.
In that sense, the Ole Miss game will likely be much more like the last four games than like the first two games.
As a fan base, we just all need to hope that we can somehow pull out a win. Any win tomorrow, regardless of how it may happen, should be deemed a success. At some point in time -- and it may very well not be this year -- we'll really take off as a football team, but until that comes we just have to get by with all that we can get, regardless of how we get it. Ole Miss is a viable foe, we've struggled greatly the past two years against the Rebels, and we've always played quite poorly in Oxford. On paper we should win, but games aren't played on paper.
Hope for the best.