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Alabama vs. Ole Miss Preview: When The Crimson Tide has the ball

Do the Rebels have a chance at slowing down the Alabama offense?

Mississippi v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Let’s get this out of the way: While I gushed over the Ole Miss offensive scheme in my preview yesterday, their defense has been... uh... not good. At all. Like, 600 yards and 46 points per game bad.

Of course, a sample size of 2 is quite small, but the Rebels have been bad in all phases. Check out these numbers:

In week 1, Florida passed for 446 yards on 10 yards/attempt with 6 touchdowns, eviscerating the Ole Miss secondary. They only rushed for 200 yards on 6.8 yards per carry. So, uh, at least that was a little bit better than the pass defense, right?

In the following week, Kentucky flipped the script. The Wildcats rushed for an utterly ridiculous 408 yards and 6 touchdowns at 7.3 yards per carry. They only passed for 180 yards, but also only attempted 18 passes... completing 14 of them (78%, for those counting).

The Rebels run a fairly similar base scheme to that of Alabama, at least in the front seven. It’s a base 3-4 front with a trio of big guys on the line supplemented with some outside linebackers that line up on the line of scrimmage as well. Seniors Tariquius Tisdale and Ryder Anderson are the most common mainstays as big, lengthy guys, and then a group of stouter nose tackles rotate in as well.

They have two very different roles for outside linebackers, with JUCO transfer Sam Williams playing the hulking quasi-defensive end and then 220-pound Daylen Gill working on the opposite side as a speedy guy who can blitz the backside or work as a semi defensive back.

Jahquez Jones is a steady junior out of Tuscaloosa at middle linebacker, while Lakia Henry (a former top JUCO guy) and MoMo Sanogo are alternating as the other inside linebacker. Sanogo was a two-year starter for Ole Miss, being named to the Butkus watch list last year before messing up his ankle and missing most of the season.

At defensive back, Ole Miss doesn’t have much in way of name recognition. Cornerback Keidron Smith and safety Jalen Jones have started games in the past, but have never been full-time starters. Jalen Jordan and Jakorey Hawkins are brand new starters.

Schematically, they tend to play a soft zone off-coverage out of a cover 3 or cover 6 shell most often, though they definitely rotate to man and other types of zone as needed, and Coordinators DJ Durkin and Chris Partridge are more than willing to blitz a DB as well as a linebacker or two on 3rd downs to try and cover up for deficiencies in both pass coverage and pass-rush ability from the front four linemen.

Honestly, if what Kentucky and Florida did to this defense is any indication, Alabama’s offense should run through them like a hot knife through butter. Every position is so much of a mismatch that there’s not even much of a matchup analysis to talk about. Alabama’s skill players are just so much faster.

However, this will be the game that we test Mac Jones’ patience. Ole Miss is going to send a whole lot of blitzes his way, and they’re going to play deep off coverage. Jones has feasted the last two weeks and getting deep shots as Missouri and A&M cheated up to stop Najee Harris and the short passing game to Alabama’s receivers. Will he be able to go away from what’s worked the last two weeks and take advantage of a defensive scheme that should give him ample opportunity to hit short slants and hot reads all day long.

If not, it could spell an issue as he is forced to take some sacks or lob balls into double coverage deep. OC Steve Sarkisian will need to curb his enthusiasm a bit and be happy to let Najee Harris terrorize the slower defense on off-tackle runs like Kentucky did and be happy to take 10 yard pass after 10 yard pass all game long.