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Initial Impressions: Alabama easily dispatches Ole Miss, lets down entire nation hoping for the upset

Final score 42-21, with the Rebels getting a couple of garbage time touchdowns

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Alabama Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Remember that time we spent an entire offseason fretting about Alabama’s upcoming matchup with Ole Miss? Pretty much everyone within our fanbase pointed to this game as the one that will be the ultimate test for the Tide, and would determine whether or not Alabama’s flaws would surface as season-wrecking deficiencies.

Well, we all forgot one thing: Nick Saban is still Alabama’s coach, and he spent an entire offseason strategizing for this game.

Ole Miss has talent, no doubt. Matt Corral made some amazing throws, their receivers made some great catches, and all three running backs were really tough to tackle. But, in this game, Alabama outcoached the opponent on offense, on defense, and in gameflow decisions. There have been times we’ve accused Alabama of leaning on overwhelming talent to get wins, but in this game, the coaches in all phases put the team in the best possible situations to win.

Contrasted with that, Lane Kiffin opened up the game with an arrogant headset toss. It was clearly a pre-planned move from him, and, if Ole Miss had come out won, or at least played toe-to-toe with Alabama, that kind of braggadocio would have earned him some points. Instead, that backfired as Kiffin went full balls to wall and went for it on 4th down four times in the first quarter, only to find his team scoreless and, frankly, a bit embarrassed by the antics.

The Rebel’s offense actually started well, eating up a few yards at a time against the Alabama defense. The Tide defenders were generally in the right place, but Jerrion Ealy slipped and squirted through tackles like a yogurt-covered grape. Braylen Sanders also made an incredible 1-handed catch down the sideline. Sometimes, you just gotta tip your cap to the opponent.

In any case, they did manage to convert two 4th downs after the Alabama defense got stops, and went for the trifecta down on the goal line. Instead, Tim Smith, the reserve nose tackle that’s assuredly been in a bit of a sophomore slump, chose the right time to emerge from being invisible and turned into a 320-pound moving wall, absolutely crumpling Ealy in front of the first down line.

The Tide turned around and ran 13 plays for 94 yards, mixing in runs, passes out of 2-back sets and passes to TE’s before Bryce Young made a phenomenal throw on the run to hit John Metchie in the endzone.

The Rebels employed an 8-man coverage scheme that had them focusing on keeping a deep shell and preventing huge plays at the expense of leaving the front of the line light. And while that may have been a good strategy against Alabama from 2018-2020, it played straight into the strengths of Bill O’Brien as a playcaller. The former NFL OC was more than happy to ram the ball up the middle and throw quick curls all the way down the field as the defense continued to sit back and take away a deep ball that never came.

The Tide defense quickly forced another 4th down, and then Drew Sanders put the heat on Matt Corral to force a tough sideline throw that Jordan Battle defended, giving Alabama’s offense easy field position. Brian Robinson channeled his inner Trent Richardson and started bulldozing Rebel defenders over and over again before finally plowing his way into the endzone on 4th and 1.

The teams actually traded punts after that (which I believe was more than they punted combined in the 2020 matchup), only for the Tide defense to force another 4 and out, with Henry To’oTo’o making a great read on a speed option and running down Jerrion Ealy on an island in the open field. With great field position again, Alabama quickly got down the goal line, and drew up the old reliable PA Boot to the wide open tight end in the back of the endzone. It’s been a short yardage staple of the pros since... uh... the forward pass was invented, and worked yet again, as Cam Latu added another touchdown to his ridiculous total this season.

With a cushy 21-point lead, the Alabama defense smelled blood in the water, and Phidarian Mathis blasted through the offensive line of first down to strip sack Corral, and Brian Robinson punched it into the endzone a couple of plays later.

The defense quickly stuffed one last attempt from the Rebels to get a score before halftime, and Alabama went into the locker room with a 28-0 lead, set to get the ball back.

It didn’t take long for Alabama to extend the lead, with Slade Bolden grabbing a nifty 30-yard ball down the seam and Brian Robinson trucking about 10 defenders on a 17-yard scamper to the endzone. He wound up being called down an inch short, so he just blasted his way through the line on the next play anyway, and with 27 minutes left to go in the game, it was over.

The Rebels managed to score on the next drive, aided by a couple of questionable penalties and some poor effort by a few Alabama defenders, but it took 13 plays and 5 minutes to do it. Alabama was happy to keep running the clock, and turned around and burned 7 more minutes on a 12 play drive with Brian Robinson and Roydell Williams churning out first downs. Young did make a mistake at the end, passing up an easy scramble for a first down for a shot to the endzone, and it wound up a bit off target and intercepted at the 1 yard line. It was his first pick of the season, and it was 100% on him... In both the decision and the accuracy on the throw.

It didn’t much matter, though, as the Alabama defense bowed up and forced a 3 and out, with the Rebels narrowly avoiding a safety by less than a foot with forward progress.

The Tide, again, drove down the field, but this time the pass protection failed, getting Young sacked twice and putting Alabama in 3rd and 19. Rather than playing conservative and settling for a run and a field goal attempt, though, Bill O’Brien, Saban, and Young went for the jugular. Young dropped back, nimbly avoided a rusher, and launched a 30-yard bullet to Jameson Williams, who made a tremendous diving grab at the 1 yard line and kept the ball off of the grass. Now, stop me if you heard this one before, but Robinson took the goal line handoff for an easy score against an Ole Miss front that was, quite frankly, out of their league.

On the next drive, Christian Harris forgot to cover a tight end (you knew it had to happen at some point), giving Ole Miss an easy 50 yards that they managed to convert into their second touchdown a few plays later.

Alabama burned another five minutes off of the clock with a series of runs, and, to their credit, the Ole Miss defensive line finally buckled up and made a 4th down short yardage stop on Robinson to get the ball back with good field position.

A wrong dubious pass interference call on a 4th down stop gave the Rebels the ball at the 1 yard line again, and they did manage to get the score after that to cut the game to only 3 possessions, but it was way too late, as Alabama just burned the rest of the clock on three runs from Robinson to end it.

  • Man, how about that defense? After getting absolutely gashed in 2020, then struggling with Florida’s similar zone rushing scheme this year, they totally shut down the Ole Miss run game today. Jerrion Ealy made a few plays, sure, but the Tide defense was always in good position, holding the Rebels to 78 rushing yards on 2.3 yards per attempt.
  • Will Anderson was in the backfield all day, and Phidarian Mathis was too. Both guys drew holding penalties (kinda nice to see after that time Alabama went 3 seasons without a single holding called on their opponents), and honestly, at least two more should have been called. These two wrecked things, and Anderson had 9 tackles, a sack, 2 hurries, and 2.5 tackles for loss.
  • Drew Sanders had a huge impact this game. He was in on a bunch of tackles in the first drive, and, though he missed on a 4th down screen early on, he snuffed out another screen a drive later. He had a couple of nice pass rushes, too, forcing a hurried throw on a 4th down.
  • Jalyn Armour-Davis got called for one pass interference down the sideline, but he also broke up a 1v1 deep shot down the field, and got a couple of sideline tackles for minimal gain. He’s quietly been awesome this year so far, proving why he won the starting job over some talented freshmen.
  • DeMarcco Hellams whiffed badly on a few tackles, but he also made 3 different bone-crunching hits that stonewalled a dude before they crossed a first down line. I’m still not sure if he’s a liability or a difference maker. It changes from play to play.
  • For some reason, we barely saw Brian Branch. He’s shown a lot of prowess in the past at blowing up blockers on the perimeter and making tackles, so I’m not sure why he didn’t get more playing time. Malachi Moore was a complete non-factor at making tackles in the running game.
  • As I mentioned earlier, Ole Miss’s defense dared Alabama to patiently run the ball on them, and boy did Brian Robinson do just that. 36 attempts for 171 yards and 4 TDs for the senior in the best game of his entire career. He was a freight train in the open field, but also displayed a nimble jump-cut behind the line of scrimmage multiple times to break a big gain. It’s the most patiently I’ve ever seen him run, and that extra vision turned him from a just a guy that can bowl over a defender to an borderline elite RB.
  • Having Jahleel Billingsley back out there has made a huge difference for Alabama’s passing game. He just gets open in that intermediate area all the time.
  • For all of their success at run blocking, we have to talk about the offensive line’s pass blocking for a minute. They got roasted for a couple of drives in the second half. Chris Owens whiffed on multiple speed rushes, and Darrian Dalcourt let a few guys by. On top of that Dalcourt’s snap accuracy was about as good as toddler flinging food across the room. I know Bryce is a small target, but he was having to make basketball rebounds every play just to catch the snap, and it messed up quite a few plays.
  • Our receivers can’t block for a receiver screen to save their lives. It’s a big departure from Ruggs, Waddle, Smith, and Jeudy, and the lack of 1st rounds talents at wide receiver is glaring after what we got used to the last 3 years.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the lackadaisical officiating in the second half. Alabama was called for multiple pass interferences where the ball was waaayyy out of bounds. Will Anderson was being held on every pass rush. Bryce Young was blasted out of bounds in what would have been an easy late hit call for any other QB in the nation.

Ole Miss did a last second substitution and then snapped the ball when Alabama was trying to sub, getting a free 1st down. When Saban complained about it to the refs, they turned around and forced Alabama to wait 20 seconds to snap the ball when Ole Miss couldn’t figure out how to get set, ignoring the fact that it was the first play after the kickoff and Alabama never substituted.

In a tighter game, all of that could have quickly snowballed into something catastrophic. I know Alabama was winning big, and that tends to influence things, but it was a bad second half for them.

In any case, Alabama moves on undefeated, now having defeated two of the top SEC teams and 3 different top-15 opponents. This was the best-coached game I’ve seen from Alabama this season, and both Pete Golding and Bill O’Brien deserve a lot of credit for the schemes they implemented against Ole Miss. Saban also was aggressive when he needed to be, and the decisions paid off more often than not.

If they can maintain that going forward, this team could be even better than we thought going in.

Roll Tide!