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Southern Miss preview: When Alabama has the ball

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One of the best defenses in Conference USA visits Tuscaloosa.

NCAA Football: Alabama at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

In the final cupcake matchup before the SEC season kicks off in earnest, Southern Miss will visit Tuscaloosa as large underdogs. Defensively, the Golden Eagles are led by coordinator Tim Billings, who deploys a 3-3-5 attack that is designed to attack the backfield from all angles. With the experience they have on the roster, this group can open up the playbook and test the Tide’s communication up front.

The man who makes everything tick is MLB Racheem Boothe. He may be undersized at only 6’0” 210 lb, but as a fourth year junior he calls all of the shots and earned a yearlong grade of 86 from Pro Football Focus in 2018. Boothe will spend time blitzing, dropping into coverage and spying, and he seems to do it all very well. The other name to watch up front is hybrid edge player Torrance Brown. Brown is a 6’4” 255 lb. grad transfer from Penn State who played his high school ball at Tuscaloosa Academy. You know that he will want to show out in his hometown, and he’s plenty capable of creating havoc off the edge. Jacques Turner is on the opposite edge and was named to the all-conference team last season.

The Eagles are just as mature in the secondary, as four members of the nickel group are seniors or redshirt juniors. The leader of that group is diminutive CB Ty Williams. He was a JUCO transfer in 2018 from infamous East Mississippi Community College, but made an impact in his first season on campus with three interceptions, six passes defensed, and 49 tackles. Ky’el Hemby is the ballhawking safety, managing six interceptions and 51 tackles last season.

The Alabama offensive line has done an outstanding job in pass protection this season, but there have been a few breakdowns there and in the run game against stunts and games up front. This is a very experienced front seven, so Tua Tagovailoa and company should plan on having the kitchen sink thrown at them. This game will provide a great litmus test to see whether the line has improved at handling smaller, havoc wreaking pass rushers.

If they so desire, Alabama can probably line up and RPO this squad right out of the stadium on Saturday, but if you’ve watched Nick Saban at all, you know that he will be using this game to work on the things that they haven’t done very well. Look for a heavy dose of zone running with Najee Harris and Brian Robinson. Even still, Tua should get his stats.

This is one of those smaller schools who has players capable of playing in Power Five leagues, and they will undoubtedly cherish this opportunity to get some film against Alabama. The Tide should be ready for every stunt game you can imagine, and if Tua gets a little lazy with his eyes they are more than capable of plucking one out of the air as well.

Stay on your toes for this group, fellas.

Roll Tide.