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Alabama Football vs Ole Miss Preview: When the Rebels have the ball

Lane Kiffin returns for another round... Will there be popcorn in Oxford this time?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 29 Ole Miss at Texas A&M Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Lane Kiffin experiment in Oxford is now in year 3, and, as you might guess, it’s been entertaining.

In 2020, Kiffin’s offense exploded onto the scene to put up nearly 50 points on Alabama in what was essentially the closest that 2020 squad ever came to breaking a sweat as they buzzsawed their way through the NCAA.

In 2021, the Rebels came into the rematch in Tuscaloosa with QB Matt Corral as the Heisman favorite and Lane making a meme of himself with his popcorn comments.

The world expected an upset over a rebuilding Alabama squad... And it fell flat. Ole Miss managed 21 points on the Tide in a blowout loss, before going on to lose to Auburn and be mostly forgotten in the national conversation. Their offense in 2021 saw a fairly significant dip in scoring from their 2020 output (although, quietly, they held 5 straight opponents under 21 points to close the season), and they came into 2022 having to break in a new QB.

At 8-1, they’re currently second place in the SEC West due to losing to LSU (and LSU’s loss to Florida State not counting in SEC standings) and, arguably, might even be the favored team in this game against Alabama in Oxford.

The Ole Miss offense has improved their scoring from last year, up to 37 points per game. They had a couple of bad outputs against Kentucky and LSU, only scoring 22 and 20 in those games.

We all know Lane’s offense at this point. He’s going to use a whole lot of pre snap motion, get defenses moving as horizontally as possible, and ultimately run the ball into the ground with his backs, receivers, and QB... Whichever matchup he likes best. The passing game is mostly a one read and throw quick scheme, made up of slants, seams, and fade shots, while supplementing itself with WR screens and speed sweeps.

Their passing game has taken a step back from 2021, with Jaxson Dart not playing with the same level of efficiency as Corral. Dart’s completing only 61% of his passes with 14 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. His 8.8 Yards per attempt are decent, but not tremendously explosive or anything.

Slot receiver Jonathan Mingo returns as their main big play threat and go-to receiver. Mingo has 30 catches for 554 yards and 4 touchdowns... An average of a ridiculous 22.1 yards per catch. He’s a big, 225 pound receiver with running back skills and big play speed that’s often compared to NFL star Deebo Samuel, and has given Alabama problems in previous years.

Along with him, Miss State transfer Malik Heath is a 6’3” boundary possession guy with 32 catches for 491 yards. And Jordan Watkins rounds out the starting trio as a diminutive transfer from Louisville. At TE, USC transfer (sensing a theme?) Michael Trigg has been the main pass catcher

With all of that, though, the running game is what makes this offense go. With 180 attempts for 1036 yards and 13 TDs, freshman Quinshon Judkins has been all the talk of the town as a barely-recruited player out of Montgomery, Alabama and is now arguably the best running back in the SEC. He’s fast, powerful, and elusive. Just an overall balanced back with a never-ending supply of energy on every run.

Backing him up is TCU transfer Zach Evans, who was once a highly sought after 5-star recruit that had a wild recruitment a few years back, with all of the top teams pulling out of scholarship offers

Evans had a well-documented and eventful path to TCU. At one point he ranked as the No. 1 overall player in the 2020 recruiting class and he had a recruitment to match that sort of hype. During about a 12-month period, Evans had leaders that included Texas, LSU, Alabama and Georgia. Texas A&M, Ole Miss and even Tennessee entered the mix at various times. Evans signed with Georgia silently during the Early Signing Period but eventually asked out of that National Letter of Intent. Evans remained uncommitted for months following his exit from UGA before signing with the Horned Frogs.

Evans is a supremely talented back when it comes to making players miss in a phone booth, and he has 680 yards on 108 carries of his own.

Finally, QB Jaxson Dart adds a good bit of rushing production of his own. As one of the leading read-option minds in the game, Kiffin’s offense uses a lot of QB backside rushing threats and the occasional QB draw play to keep defenses from ever keying in too much Judkins, Evans, or Mingo.

As for how this offense matches up with Alabama? It’s a little hard to say. They eviscerated the Tide in 2020, but the Alabama defense stiffened up in 2021 against this same scheme, and it’s mostly the same players for Alabama there.

On one hand, Alabama has been on of the best rushing defenses in the country this season... On the other, they utterly failed at it last week, and Ole Miss runs the ball much better than LSU.

Passing-wise, the Tide has mostly only struggled with sideline jumps balls and Tennessee’s Jaylin Hyatt, and Ole Miss’s offense is much more reliant on shorter, horizontal passing and getting Mingo into space.

So, in theory, I think this is a pretty decent matchup for the Alabama defense. Of course, after meltdowns against Tennessee and the final few drives against LSU, I’m not totally sure what to expect any more.

I could see this ranging anywhere between 20-50 points for the Rebels, and neither would surprise me.

Let’s split the difference and say 31 total for them in.