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

Lane Kiffin, defensive specialist?

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

After giving up an absurd 38 points per game in Lane Kiffin’s first year in Oxford, the Rebels tightened up on defense in 2021, dropping their scoring to a generally average 25 points/game. And now in 2022, with new defensive coordinator Maurice Crum and his Co-DC, Chris Partridge, they’ve become a top 35 defense, allowing 22 points per game.

Crum is an up-and-comer DC who spent the last five years with Western Kentucky, and Partridge was an ace recruiter and secondary coach before joining Kiffin at Ole Miss back in 2020.

The pair put together a bit of a unique 3-man front defense that is somewhere between a 3-3-5 and a 2-4-5, but with a lot of 3-2-6 dime mixed in. In the secondary, they run a fairly similar scheme to Pete Golding, with nickel corner Otis Reese acting as a hybrid corner/safety/linebacker who will take on offensive tackles regularly, similar to Alabama’s Brian Branch.

Their three-man fronts to go along with it very different from Alabama, though, with the them typically lining up in an even front and a nose tackle over center, but with one defensive tackle and one large linebacker/DE hybrid in the end spot that would be a DT in a traditional 3-4. From there, they’ll often walk up a linebacker or a safety to the edge of the line just before the snap to try and mix up offensive line protection schemes.

Essentially... It’s the old Chicago Bears “Bear front” from the 80s, but with a modern downsizing for combatting the college spread attacks.

With that, they’re a decent rushing defense, allowing only 4.0 yards per carry on an average of 40 attempts per game. Essentially, they start with a light box on every play, baiting opposing teams into run plays before shifting into a bear front and limiting damage.

Defensive ends Jared Ivey and Cedric Johnson have 8.5 sacks between them, while linebacker Khari Coleman leads the team with 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks from his more off-ball, blitzing position.

Defensive backs Otis Reese and Ladarius Tennison also spend a lot of time around the line of scrimmage, racking up 12 tackles for loss between them.

As the single high deep safety, senior AJ Finley is a 3 year starter and the glue that holds the whole scheme together. Finely is tasked with playing the deep centerfield all on his own for much of the game as the rest of the defense crashes the edges of the line. Finley is second on the team in tackles with 59 and has a team-high two interceptions.

I don’t love this matchup for Alabama’s offense. It’s a cover 1/cover 3 scheme built around swarming outside zone runs and creating chaos on the short route concepts. They leave their corners on an island down the sidelines and can be particularly vulnerable to seam-post combos intended to put Finley in conflict.

Unfortunately for Alabama, I don’t believe Bryce Young has even attempted a non-scribble play deep ball since before the Arkansas game, and the Tide’s run game is built on outside zone, and not a power scheme.

On the other hand, they lack the pass rush to really make Young uncomfortable, so he may shred them with his 6+ second field scans anyway.

Lets go 35 points for the Tide offense.