Almost exactly 1 year ago, Alabama and Ole Miss went into an offensive shootout that could have been called a barn-burner, were it not for the heavy rains in Oxford. With a final score of 63-48, Alabama pulled away in the final couple of drives after a back-and-forth affair that had college football wondering if punting was an art that had gone the way of the VCR.
Since then, Alabama fans have been wringing their hands and fretting about 2021, when Lane Kiffin and the Rebels would come to town.
In only 3 games this season, Ole Miss leads the nation in points per game (52.7), put up nearly 650 yards of offense per game, and eliminated the back-breaking interceptions that hampered their high-octane offense at times last year.
Of course, that has to be tempered with their bottom 3rd strength of schedule. Sure, 53 points per game is great... But Louisville, Austin Peay, and Tulane aren’t exactly the best gauges for how that offense will hold up in SEC play. Especially when the first team offense played pretty much until the end of each of these games, despite being blowouts.
Again, this offense is phenomenal and explosive, no doubt, but keep the context in mind.
At quarterback, Matt Corral returns and is currently the Heisman favorite. The 4th year man is completing 68% of his passes at 10.4 yards per attempt and 15.1 yards per completion. He’s thrown 9 touchdowns to 0 interceptions. It’s been staggeringly efficient for Corral, but that doesn’t even encapsulate how he truly makes this offense run:
Corral has 158 rushing yards through three games, and leads the team with 5 rushing TDs. He’s fast and can elude a defender in open field, and, most of all, is absolutely tremendous with his fakes (be it a read option or a pump fake) to send defenders in the wrong direction while he scampers for 12-15 yard chunks.
Corral’s receiving options are slot man Jonathan Mingo and do-everything hybrid Dontario Drummond. Mingo is averaging a very Alabama-like 19 yards per catch on 15 catches, and leads the group with 4 TDs. He’s mostly used on those deep slants down the seam off of play action.
Drummond leads the team with 20 catches for 339 yards and a few touchdowns of his own. At 220 pounds, he’s kind of a big WR/tall RB/small TE player that will line up all over the field, including occasionally hiding behind the line of scrimmage as a quasi-H-back to try and get mismatches. He’s extremely slippery, and has a knack for gliding around would-be tacklers and keeping his balance for first downs that he, by all rights, shouldn’t be able to get.
You also have guys like Braylen Sanders and Jahcour Pearson who will line up outside and are often the jet sweep motion guys, but thus far have been only ancillary weapons. Former QB John Rhys Plumlee is still back there too, and the speedy little dude can be a threat on designed packages.
For all of that, though, the running game is what truly makes the Ole Miss offense move. There’s often cross-motion both before the snap and at the handoff that keeps defenses wondering which player actually took the handoff, and, of course, Corral is always a threat to keep it on a read option around the back side if the defense isn’t disciplined.
Most of the rushing game is based around off-tackle runs, though they absolutely will run some inside zone on occasion to keep defenses from just blitzing the edges.
Jerrion Ealy returns for another year, and the diminutive back continues to be one of the quickest and most slippery players in all of college football. Ealy has 190 rushing yards on 31 attempts, and has added another 70 on catches out in the flats.
His backup, Henry Parrish Jr, is just as small, and while he doesn’t quite have the balance and jukes that Ealy does, he’s possibly even faster in a straight line. Parrish has 174 yards on 25 attempts, a ridiculous 7 yards per carry. Finally, Snoop Connor resumes his role from last year as the short yardage battering ram, and has 3 touchdowns and 125 yards on 22 carries. What Connor lacks in speed and change of direction, he makes up for tenacity when running into the nearest defender.
This Ole Miss offense will attack the off tackle area relentlessly to get the linebackers cheating to the sides, and as soon as they start to feel off balance, Corral will hit them with an RPO slant down the seam for a huge gain. If the outside linebackers start crashing down the line, Corral will keep it around the back edge. Send everyone man coverage? Corral will hit you with a QB draw up the middle.
Ultimately, slowing down this offense will require the defensive interior to play with great gap discipline, and the strongside edge defender will need to either force good contain or absolutely blow up the play while trusting his man on the other end can do the same. The middle linebackers will be particularly in conflict, as they’ll often have to be chasing plays to the sideline, but also watch for those quick passes over the middle.
Jordan Battle and/or DeMarcco Hellams will be key here. If they can prove early in the game that they can recognize and jump those seam routes, either making plays on the ball or just stonewalling the receivers, then it will free up Christian Harris and Henry To’oTo’o to roam sideline to sideline, which in turn frees up Will Anderson to attack the mesh point and wreck things.
At that point, Ole Miss would be forced to rely on a deep passing game against the Tide’s outside corners, which I don’t believe they can do. Corral has a decent arm, but is prone to underthrowing most everything deep, and he rarely attacks the boundaries unless it’s one of those passes where he hits someone on the scramble drill. And, honestly, I’ll just take Jalyn Armour-Davis and Josh Jobe over whoever Ole Miss puts on the outside anyway.
Of course, that’s putting a LOT on the safeties and middle linebackers. Can they do it? They couldn’t in 2020. But they’ve been preparing for this all offseason, and Saban has been for a full year. Plus the field won’t be an absolute sloppy mess where the defenders on both teams were unable to make tackles in the open field.
Ole Miss will score. They’ll score more than any of us are comfortable with. But I don’t believe it will be as much as they did last year. They’re no longer an unknown, and I think that’s a major factor that’s been overlooked by fans and media alike.
Lets go with 32 points for the Rebels.