Ole Miss enters week five preparing for their toughest challenge of the year as the Rebels travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama where they will face the consensus #1 team in college football in the Crimson Tide of Alabama.
The teams are natural rivals as the schools are only separated by 160 miles. The two schools are in the same division of the same league of college football, and the two programs battle for recruits year in and year out.
But one thing that cannot be debated is Alabama’s dominance on the field. Alabama leads the series 45-9-2 overall and Ole Miss has only beaten Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, once; and that was back in 1998.
Not even the mighty Mannings’ could beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but Archie and Eli did combine to hand Bama 3 of the 8 total losses in the friendly confines of Oxford, MS.
In 2012, these are two teams at opposite ends of the ESPN SEC power rankings as Alabama is considered the best program in the conference and Ole Miss is rated as the 10th best team out of 14.
The Rebels are coming off a disastrous 2011 and can at least enjoy the knowledge that at 3-1, they have already surpassed the win total from last year. (Ole Miss finished the 2011 season with a 2-10 record).
Let’s preview the team Ole Miss will face and determine the matchups or units that will have the most success this week.
Scouting the Tide
Coach Nick Saban has the Tide fans walking on rarified air even for a fan base that expects to be the best in the nation, year after year. Coming off a national title in 2011, the fans expect nothing less than a repeat in 2012.
This year, the disparity between Alabama and everyone else grows week by week as top teams step up only to fall away in early season losses. Currently Oregon and the high scoring offense of the Ducks are ranked second in the latest BCS poll and a very strong, defensive-minded LSU team is at third.
But there is not another team in the country right now that has the combination of such a strong and potent offensive and a prodigious defense that Alabama possesses.
Currently Alabama is the 6th best offense in the league and the No. 1 team in the league in total defensive statistics.
Alabama QB A. J. McCarron has over 800 yards on the young season and 10 touchdown passes. While these are not the best stats in the league for a quarterback, McCarron is certainly not needed to do much more but hand the ball off behind a massive offensive line.
You can always count on Alabama having a stable of outstanding running backs, and Junior Eddie Lacey and Freshman T.J. Yeldon provide an exciting one-two punch in the backfield. Both Players have rushed for over 200 yards in limited action and averaging over 5 yards per carry.
Installing the Game Plan
Looking strictly at the numbers, Ole Miss has a better offensive production than Alabama, against similar competition. In rushing Ole Miss has 1,039 total yards (259.8 per game) compared to Alabama's 816 (204 per game). Ole Miss has passed for 913 total yards (228.2 per game) to Alabama's 884 (221 per game).
On the defensive side, Alabama has only allowed 249 rushing yards total (62.2 per game); Ole Miss have given up 501 yards on the ground (125.2 per game). Passing defense for Alabama is 491 total (122.8 per game) and for Ole Miss and the most glaring stat 992 yards total (248 per game).
The Rebels running game versus this Bama defense looks like two trains on the same track. Ole Miss defensive secondary is certainly on the track, but may not have enough strength to get out of Alabama's way.
Rebel fans are holding their breath, saying silent prayers and hoping against hope that starting QB Bo Wallace will be 100 percent Saturday. Wallace, after being injured in the first half of the Tulane game last week, was basically a non-factor, eventually being replaced by back up Barry Brunetti.
A healthy Wallace gives Ole Miss an opportunity to test a young Alabama secondary and line-backing corp, who lost 7 players to the draft and graduation last year. I’m sure this was the same game plan Michigan’s Denard Robinson tried to utilize to very little effect.
Does a young SEC team have a chance to out-play a Heisman hopeful in Denard? It will take a better effort than we saw by Michigan in the kick-off classic in week one.
Obviously, Ole Miss hasn’t faced a defense like they will face this weekend. So don’t be surprised if the offensive production drops dramatically.
In order for the Rebels to have a chance in this game, they have to find a way to contain the Alabama offense which means dealing with the Bama offensive Line. The same offensive line that gave up 6 sacks to Western Kentucky was like a stone-wall for A.J. McCarron against Arkansas.
The Rebels have at least had the opportunity to play a good team before being thrown to the wolves against the Tide.
Texas really tested the Ole Miss defense two weeks ago and put up 66 points mostly using explosive plays against a frustrated and overmatched defensive secondary. Since that game, Coach Freeze has made personnel adjustments, but playing Tulane last week did not really test the new alignments.
Can this new-ish Ole Miss defense at least hold on long enough for Bo Wallace to even matter? It’s not likely, but this is one game prediction where I wouldn’t mind being dead-wrong.