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Alabama vs Ole Miss Preview: When the Rebels have the Ball

Will we see the return of secret Anti-Bama weapon, John Rhys Plumlee?

Mississippi v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

After slogging through a hour of studying the absurdly boring Jimbo Fisher offense last week, watching Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss is a breath of fresh air. Offensive Coordinator Jeff Lebby has taken his experience designing running games at Baylor and UCF and blended it with the staples of Kiffin’s scheme to create an offense that is as pleasing to watch as an October night bonfire.

The H-back/Tight end is liberally moved all around the formation as someone who can be a lead blocker, backside blocker, decoy blocker, or a receiver. The running back might start beside the QB. Or he might start out wide and come in motion to threaten a jet sweep.

A significant part of the offense involves sending the back in motion just before the snap to make the defense worry about a quick swing pass, and, just like we saw at Alabama in 2014-2016, that running back swing pass builds into a pump fake QB draw, then a pump fake, fake QB draw, slant throw, and then a pump fake, slant and go deep shot.

Every time the offense trots out an interesting little horizontal play out of a unique formation, they wind up building on that later, showing the defense the exact same unique look, visually reinforcing their memory, and then using the primary action of that play as a decoy for some other shot (such as going into a trips receiver formation with a tight end out wide to block for the wide receiver screen, then running the exact same thing later in the game with the tight end faking a block and going deep).

The team-wide attention to detail on playaction is astounding, with linemen who absolutely block in ways that tip a defense into thinking one thing while the offense does another, and a running back that all of a sudden seems to fumble a handoff, only to immediately go into a pass block and give the QB time to make a throw.

Slants and seam routes off of playaction are the bread and butter of the passing game, and most of it is timing based.

QB Matt Corrall has been deadly efficient through two games, completing 77% of his passes for 715 yards and 7 touchdowns to only one interception. He’s a regular threat as a scrambler and with a steady dose of read option plays and QB draws, and has 101 yards on 26 carries so far. He’s not been able to get much going on deep throws over the top of the defense yet, but he’s deadly accurate on the RPO slants and seams that Alabama saw Tua Tagovailoa orchestrate so well the last two seasons.

At running back, the diminutive Jerrion Ealy returns as the primary back, and has 172 yards on 30 touches. If he isn’t getting the carry, he’s involved in a read option, a play action fake, or pre-snap motion in some form or another. He’s slippery, dangerous, and a visual threat to get the ball on every single play.

He’s backed up by the 215 pound Snoop Conner, who’s primarily used in short yardage.

The receiving group is led by slot man Elijah Moore, who has 42% of the team’s receptions (and a ridiculous 319 yards). Like Ealy, he’s tiny, and he’s explosive. Dontario Drummond and Jonathan Mingo are bigger targets on the outside, and Mingo had 8 catches last week after not having any against Florida.

Grad transfer tight end Kenny Yeboah is the team’s other main receiving threat beside Moore with 174 yards and two touchdowns through only two games. He does pretty much everything, moving all around the formation to block, fake block, and catch seam routes down the field.

The weakest part of the Rebel offense thus far has been the offensive line. Despite the help they get from all the misdirection, the still have allowed 6 sacks on Corrall (and a whole lot more pressure) and have been very spotty in their run blocking, leading to a rather alarming stuff rate despite the explosive rushes buoying the yards/attempt.

That, coupled with a so-far undeveloped vertical passing game leaves them with a couple of exploitable weaknesses if Alabama can force them to start playing from behind with a need to pass often and pass deep to catch up. If the Tide can do that, a 4-5 sack day could be in store for the front 7.

On the other hand, Alabama struggled mightily with covering the running back out of the backfield and the tight end up the seam against Texas A&M, and that was them busting coverages without much deception from the offense. Assignment discipline from a safety group that showed little of it last week will be paramount to keeping Ole Miss from moving up and down the field at will.

There’s two other wildcards to talk about in this matchup:

First, there’s Hurricane Delta. If Alabama and Ole Miss wind up playing and a fairly strong rain and windy conditions, pretty much everything gets thrown out the window. You’d have to think all the misdirection would be a benefit to the Rebel offense if the Alabama defenders are slipping at snap. Opinions on whether or not the passing game is actually hindered in bad weather varies by fan and, honestly, depends on the QB. So who knows.

Second, don’t forget John Rhys Plumlee. Last year’s starter at QB for most of the season wasn’t much of a thrower, but was nearly impossible to tackle in the backfield. Alabama chased him around all game last year as he racked up about a million yards.

With a new coaching staff, Ole Miss has settled on Corrall as the QB, and Plumlee has been relegated to the occasional package play, and he has 1 pass, 9 rushes, and a catch on the season. Has Ole Miss just decided his particular skill set was too limited and predictable, or are they hiding him specifically to torment Alabama again?

Who knows? But Lane Kiffin is sure to give Alabama a headache this weekend.