Big thanks to One Man to Beat over at Red Cup Rebellion for participating in a rather lengthy Q&A this week. You can check out the other half of our series over on their site:
This one wound up being a battle of sandbagging between us, which was rather fun. This game could well become a classic.
1) Okay, are all Ole Miss fans as confident that the Rebels are going to beat Alabama as Alabama fans are? Our entire fanbase is absolutely terrified out of their minds of the Lane Kiffin run back game.
I am in no way confident Ole Miss beats Alabama on Saturday. I don’t know how you can bet against the Tide right now. Y’all are the kings of gosh dang college football right now until someone knocks you on your collective ass. Now, could Lane Kiffin over time do that? Maybe, but I wouldn’t expect it as a standard for our program in year two.
Certainly, it brings all the joy in the world to know there are crimson and white hands wringing across the state, brows sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy and vomit on your sweaters already over Ole Miss coming into Tuscaloosa. But the Rebels have won there I believe twice EVER. History sides with the Tide, and it would be a historic victory could the Rebels somehow pull it off.
2) We’ll start with the defense. Obviously, the Rebels were... subpar.... there in 2020. Most around the media seem to think the defense has improved this year, but 21 points to Tulane, 17 to Austin Peay, and 24 to Louisville still seems uninspiring. Has there been legitimate improvement, or is it a mirage of the schedule?
You’re a scholar and a gentleman for leaving it at subpar for 2020 in terms of our defense. We were dookie, plain and simple, one of the worst in the country. There was nowhere to go but up in my opinion. So far, the best showing for me was against Louisville, because the Rebels logged a first half shutout for the first time since 2016. Yes, they gave up 24 second half points, but we’re talking being up 3-4 touchdowns in the fourth quarter kind of garbage time scoring.
Similarly, Austin Peay scored its final touchdown late or it’s a 54-10 win. I am not saying the Rebels are world class on defense, but they have improved from last year to maybe being a top 75 total defense kind of squad rather than 112th or whatever it was. The transfer of Chance Campbell to linebacker was vital as he is the most sure tackler we have had in probably three years, and the defensive line seems to have more pass rush capability than the past.
3) Going a little deeper, if Alabama is going to exploit a specific area of this defense what would it be?
If the Crimson Tide can effectively run the football for three quarters, it goes a long way to beating Ole Miss. The defense does a good bit of drop-8 coverage from what I have seen so far, so it forces the quarterback to make good throws or take what is given short. Breaking off some solid run plays and delivering in the red zone could cause our bend but don’t break defense to make changes. If Ole Miss is forced off this defensive gameplan, it means anything is possible.
4) And if you haven’t already touched on it in the last two questions, what part of this unit is most likely to make a game changing play against the Tide offense?
It just starts with the defensive line and also our MLB Campbell, I think having a spy on Bryce Young and helping contain his abilities is vital to limiting any explosive plays and having our defense keep the ball in front of them to make plays.
5) Moving over to offense, Matt Corral is getting a whole lot of love and Heisman hype. From what I’ve watched of Ole Miss myself (shoutouts to that guy on YouTube that cut up just the offensive plays), though, I tend to think that the yards really come from the running backs, and the schemes and fakes give Corral an easier job. I guess my question is: Is Matt Corral an irreplaceable talent at QB, or could the Ole Miss/Jeff Lebby/Lane Kiffin offense rack up just as many yards with a similarly competent QB who can break off those backside zone read runs?
That’s kind of a tough question to answer, because if there is a similarly competent QB, it’s likely they’ll have close to the same results in the same system. I do think there is an edge to Corral and a toughness that is difficult to replace. He seems to have won over this team as its leader and is “the guy” that we’ll ride with through thick or thin.
I do think Lebby/Kiffin have an offense that is special, and we have a running backs room with some good talent that makes it hard on defenses to keep a hat on everyone on the field at all times.
6) At running back, Jerrion Ealy is slippery and Henry Parrish, Jr. is really dang fast. But last year, it was short yardage specialist Snoop Connor that really broke the back of the Alabama defense in some critical moments. Which guy do you think has the biggest plays this weekend?
Snoop has just about sent me streaking through the quad a couple times already this year. I may be wrong about the philosophy with these three players through the start of the season, but it seems we use Parrish and Ealy in the first half as more tempo and pass catching backs then as the opposing defense wears in the second half, Snoop comes barreling through to finish the job. I don’t think this is a philosophy that will work for most SEC teams however. When it comes to who makes the biggest plays, I put my faith in Ealy first.
7) Please explain how your receivers are used. Mingo is a slot guy like Elijah Moore was... I think? But then Dontario Drummond is maybe a WR, but also maybe a psuedo-TE? Do you even use outside receivers?
Anybody can be anything at any time - it’s very exciting! Braylon Sanders and Drummond are the most likely big play guys as far as downfield passing while Mingo has filled that role of a slot, run the slant and bubble route kind of workman role. The biggest hole we have had receiving-wise has been at TE with Casey Kelly (Chad’s bro) and Chase Rogers getting some targets and catches but nothing of note. Typically in Kiffin’s offenses as y’all know, there is one guy who gets the lion’s share of catches and then there’s a considerable drop-off. Drummond is WR1 and the rest fall in line as defenses dictate.
8) I know he’s mostly been a minor player since Lane Kiffin took over, but many Alabama fans still have PTSD from John Rhys Plumlee running for a million yards in 2019. Any chance he does anything this week?
Yeah, I mean, he’s a good kid, I wish him all the success in the world, but he hasn’t found a place yet in this offense. Maybe this is the week a new wrinkle is revealed offensively where he makes a splash, but it is seriously unlikely. Kiffin knows JRP is a fan favorite in Oxford, so he has even taken some snaps late in games with our coach saying, “I thought maybe fans would stick around to the end if I put him in.”
It’s just not clear how exactly he should be used as he had some decent success as a slot receiver in the Outback Bowl, but I’m not sure if he has the elite speed to be a gadget/speed sweep type guy like Anthony Schwartz at Auburn.
9) Any true freshmen making a big impact for the Rebels this season?
A lot of fans are excited about Tywone Malone, the latest two-sport athlete to come to Oxford. The 6’4” 310 lbs freshman out of Bergen Catholic in New Jersey is a monster, but he has seen limited time so far this season (three tackles vs. Austin Peay). I think he will get more and more looks as he acclimates to pace of play.
Caden Costa, our freshman kicker, is probably the most valuable first year player we have on the roster, however. He is four of five on field goals for the season with a long of 47. Last season, we had no reliability here, and the offense was forced on the field in many fourths and whatevers to try and make something happen. I believe we left points on the table then that we most certainly would score this season because of this one guy.
10) With all of your life savings on the line (about $27.11, give or take), who wins this game? Feel free to go as deep or as shallow as you want on the predictions/reasoning.
First off, I invest wisely in my 401K and Roth IRA and would recommend you do the same, and I usually start the betting season with a predetermined amount of money that I’m fine with losing. My wife is aware of half the predetermined amount, so we can try to keep marital bliss.
I personally am staying away from this game as far as betting money, but if I were to place a wager, it would have been when some lines came out at Bama -20, and I would have put money on Rebels +20 with maybe like $50 or $100. It’s been bet down to 14.5, which is really a perilous number for me. I think Nick Saban wants to show his team is ready to put the Florida game behind them and dispatch Ole Miss with every bit of certainty possible. Alabama’s players undoubtedly have to feel that their dominance is being doubted and challenged by the media, fans, etc. Is it enough to motivate them to a blowout? I think very possibly so but wouldn’t put my house note on it.
11) Past this game, what are your expectations for the Rebels for the rest of the season?
Expectations have gone through the roof for this team, because the fans were thirsty for a great start to the year. I think the most enthusiastic fans were thinking 10-2 before the season started and now have talked themselves into the possibility of Ole Miss having maybe its best year ever. As far as my expectations, I think we have limited depth, and I’m not convinced we can weather a nine-game stretch of SEC play plus a visit from a very determined Liberty team without a few bumps along the way.
Granted, a 9-3 record at the end of the year is not going to be thrilling for some fans, but it still is a good year at Ole Miss. I felt like we were set for a 8-4 or 9-3 year at best in preseason, so I’m not too far off that mark just yet.