The No. 15 Ole Miss Rebels travel to Bryant Denny to face the No. 14 Alabama Crimson Tide, with many people predicting that this is finally the year that Lane Kiffin gets off the skids and unearths the man who helped give him back his career.
It won’t be easy, however. Despite being wounded and very mortal, the Tide are still a touchdown favorite for this 2:30 tilt. And, in many ways, it feels like only now has the season truly begun in Tuscaloosa.
Ole Miss at Alabama -6.5
Ignore the rankings and narratives swirling this week. And ignore the close ranking between the two. Where there are differences here, they are generally stark, and they are almost all under the hood, on an efficiency basis.
Both have been able to shut down the run, limit scores on the ground, and track under 3.5 YPA. But, the Tide’s defense has been so much better. And their ground defense has been done so against more menacing rushing attacks, not least of all USF — who’s 17th in the country on the ground. The Tide’s defensive showing in Tampa looks a lot better the more removed you are from it.
All of the games do.
In fact, the Tide’s defense as a whole is in the Top 20 across the board: 5th overall, 6th in per-play efficiency, 10th in per-drive efficiency, 5th in pass efficiency, 17th in rushing efficiency, 3rd in limiting explosive plays, and 18th in per-rush efficiency. It’s been very hard to drive the ball on the Tide...or to get big gainers for that matter. Omit two busts vs. Texas, and two early chunk plays vs. MTSU, and Alabama would be in the top three in every defensive category in the country.
It’s not illusory. The defense really has been playing that well.
Ole Miss’s defense has made some strides under Pete, with no real glaring weaknesses — it is aggressively average across the board. But that’s what he was paid to do: improve this ghastly unit. And, to his credit, Golding has done so. The Rebels are in the 50s and 60s in almost every defensive category, except per-play defense, where the Rebs are 22nd. And, where you’re really seeing Pete’s impact: The Rebels are giving up a full touchdown less per game. Will those numbers continue? Likely not, and the Rebs will face better teams. But for limited talent, is a solid unit.
Across the board, it’s much the same just about everywhere you look. Alabama is just thissss much better than the Rebels. And even where there’s an advantage for Ole Miss, it plays right into one of the Tide’s strengths or is offset by one.
- Opponent-adjusted turnovers? Tide by a nose.
- Third Down conversions? Thissssss much better for the Tide.
- Third Downs allowed? Tide again.
- Explosive plays gained for the Rebels? How about the devastatingly few allowed by the Tide — just 24 plays over 10 yards.
- Ole Miss’s 5th-ranked passing game? Meet ‘Bama’s 3rd ranked per-play passing defense.
- Even Alabama’s ghastly passing game (73rd) runs into a very malleable Ole Miss secondary (66th) — by far the most generous group since the Tide squared off versus MTSU.
- Ole Miss’s great kicking game (18th)? Alabama’s is better — 2nd in the country, and topped only by the Texas Longhorns.
- Alabama is even permitting fewer penalties per game!
The biggest intangible is be one that isn’t captured by the data: Ole Miss has been able to coast through three taffy-soft home games, and spend an entire offseason scheming for this one. You know Pete and LMFK want nothing more than to upend Ole’ Man Nick.
Still, we can’t quantify motivation. So, on paper the biggest mismatch of the game is a huge one, and it militates in favor of the Tide: Alabama’s rushing offense (3rd) vs. the 49th-ranked Rebel ground defense. If Alabama is going to win this one, it’s going to be with old school football: solid special teams, great defense, and winning the rushing game. It’s a new-look game, but at its heart, Ole Miss-Alabama really is going to be a throwback contest. That may make Saban and company feel a little more at ease. This is what Alabama was allegedly built for. Time to prove it.
Is all that enough for the touchdown at home?
We like to say that the data don’t lie (they’re often wildly inaccurate)...but they’re often wildly inaccurate. And, for a program that has traditionally used Alabama as its measuring stick, Ole Miss is a few inches short again at almost every position and in nearly every metric.
Don’t look for much scoring...it’s going to be scarce, as this game devolves into trench warfare and a battle of two rushing quarterbacks. Alabama looks to have just a little bit more in the tank, however, and a cumulative enough in the tank to get the touchdown at home.
It won’t be easy though.
Alabama 23 — Ole Miss 14
Tide wins by a touchdown-plus
This poll is closed
Yup. This is the kind of game Nick Saban wanted this team to win
Nope. Whether it was built to win these or not, Alabama is still a work in progress.