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Alabama vs. Ole Miss Preview: When the Rebels Have the Ball

Rebels? Black Bears? Landsharks? Is my title correct?

NCAA Football: California at Mississippi Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

So, as an engineer by trade, I’m all about efficiency in work flow (Read: automate stuff to give myself more free time to lurk in the comments of RBR). As such, I’m going to shamelessly promote some hard work done last week by the Cal Golden Bears’ SBN site on previewing Ole Miss’s offense:

Ole Miss reminds me a lot of a worse version of USC. Like... Diet USC... or USC-Lite? I’m not sure. Could imagine if you had a team loaded with NFL talent, but coaching ineptitude caused you to stumble to a 5-7 season? I mean, surely you’d fire your coach for that, right?

Unfortunately for Ole Miss, a lot of that NFL talent is gone, but their coaching ineptitude still remains. Justin Wilcox already upset a loaded Ole Miss team back in 2017 (opened Mississippi -3.5, closed at Mississippi -7; Cal won by 11), so it was a bit surprising to me to see Ole Miss fans already pencil this game in as a win in their quest for bowl eligibility, because Cal has gotten better since then, while Ole Miss has gotten worse. They are starting a freshman quarterback in place of the very talented Jordan Ta’amu, they lost their trio of star wide receivers to the NFL, they lost two of their best offensive linemen... and they have the same coach that has led them to 6-6 and 5-7 seasons with all of that talent. Cal is currently a bit banged up right now, but I’ve yet to see much of a convincing argument in favor of Ole Miss upsetting Cal outside of “Well, California kids can’t handle heat and humidity.” Lastly, thanks for scheduling this game at 9 AM PDT and hiding it on ESPNU, you big jerks.

Click the link before the quote if you want to read the whole piece. It’s a humorous read with some actual film and analysis sprinkled in.

Anyway, here’s a quick breakdown of the Rebel-Bear-Shark offense, from a Roll Bama Roll perspective.

This isn’t the gun-slinging passing offense that we’ve seen out of Ole Miss for most of the last 5 years. Gone are the trio of AJ Brown, DK Metcalf, and DeMarcus Lodge— all NFL draftpicks at wide receiver, with Brown and Metcalf both being 2nd rounders. Instead, Matt Luke has doubled down on the rushing game, as they’ve rushed the ball 56% of the time this season— a number that climbs up to 65% on standard downs (not 3rd and long). Most of that goes to senior Scottie Phillips, who was quietly one of the better backs in the SEC as a JUCO transfer in 2018.

The 5’8” 210 has already ran for 362 yards and 4 touchdowns in four games this season. He’s a bowling ball of a back who excels at blasting up the middle and pinballing and slipping around among much taller defenders for more yards than he should get on any given play. He’s spelled by a name many of you may remember from the recruiting battles two seasons ago, Jerrion Ealy. The 180-lb scat back decided not to pursue baseball or play for Alabama, choosing instead to play for Ole Miss. He’s got only 21 carries to Phillips’ 84, but he’s made the most of them with an explosive 6.1 yards per carry, and is used extensively in the passing game and as a decoy player.

Despite their talent at running back and focus on the running game, Ole Miss hasn’t been all that successful with it. They’re only hitting a 38% success rate when running the ball, good for 90th in the nation, and the offensive line is getting their backs stuffed behind the line of scrimmage 24% of the time (103 worst in the nation... ouch). That said, they’re 41st in the nation in explosive rush rate and 48th in short yardage success rate, so that’s... a positive... I guess... Comparatively.

Well, maybe the passing game is better? Redshirt freshman Matt Corral has 844 yards with 4 touchdowns to 1 interception. He’s a balanced QB with a big arm, some running ability, and a whole lot of competitive moxie mixed in with just as prominent freshman mistakes.

While there is a blend of anonymous receivers all vying for the few targets there are to go around, the majority of Corral’s passes all go to slot man Elijah Moore, who has 4x as many receptions as the next leading pass catcher, running back Jerrion Ealy. Moore has 29 catches for 380 yards and a couple of touchdowns, with a big chunk of that being 3rd downs. If it’s a third and long, there’s a greater than 50% chance that Corral is looking for Moore.

Though Ole Miss did return a couple of offensive linemen, they’ve mostly had to rebuild their line, and it shows. The stuff rate was really bad, as I mentioned above, and Corral has been sacked 10 times already on only 114 attempts (almost 10%). When it comes to limiting big plays from opposing defenses, they’ve been among the nation’s worst, giving up nearly 20% havoc rate (a sack, TFL, pass break-up, fumble, or interception), which is 96th in the nation.

And to continue my theme of using the work from other people, here’s an awesome graphic courtesy of Zane Murfitt, an advanced stats guru for the Washington State blog for SBN.

There’s a pretty significant gap between Alabama’s defense and Ole Miss’s offense in pretty much every category here. The only spots where Ole Miss is within striking distance is on 3rd down conversions and stuffs. The Rebels have actually been fairly solid thanks to Moore on 3rd downs, while Alabama has had a few struggles here and there (again, this is all relative, but both teams are only slightly above national average on their respective sides of the ball). And while Ole Miss has been particularly dreadful at giving up stuffs behind the line of scrimmage, Alabama’s defense also hasn’t exactly been successful at getting those negative plays.

Overall, though, Alabama’s pass defense is so many tiers above the Ole Miss passing offense that it will be an absolute miracle if Corral gets 200 yards. He may convert a third down or two as Moore slips away from whoever is playing slot corner, but don’t expect any big plays down the field in the passing game.

Phillips will move the chains a few times and tackling the muscle hamster will be a good test for an Alabama defense that has had some occasional issues with finishing tackles this season, and the Rebel’s weak offensive line should give the Tide’s recently freshman-filled defensive line an opportunity at getting some practice at making some tackles in the backfield.

Ultimately, this is probably a worse offense than the Southern Miss squad that Alabama faced last week, though there is a little more athleticism there, so there’s always a chance that a busted play could turn into a big chunk of yards if they’re not careful.