Four games into the 2012 season, the Ole Miss Rebels (3-1, 0-0 SEC) have already surpassed their win total for all of last season. The Rebels, however, have been defeated in each of their last eight SEC openers. Moreover, it appears they are headed for their ninth straight defeat as they travel to Tuscaloosa to face the No.1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
There is no doubting that this Ole Miss team has improved drastically under first year head coach Hugh Freeze's uptempo, no-huddle offense. Ole Miss leads the SEC in rushing offense at 259.8 yards a game, which ranks third in the SEC in total yards, producing 488 a game.
The Rebels have two dual-threat quarterbacks, Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti, who they rotate on a consistent basis. The duo have completed a combined 70-of-107 passes for 879 yards and eight touchdowns. They have also combined to rush for 332 yards and three additional touchdowns on 71 carries.
The problem for the Ole Miss offense is that they will not be facing Central Arkansas, Texas-El Paso, Tulane or even Texas. They will be facing Nick Saban's ferocious defense. Despite losing six starters from last year’s defensive squad, they are once again the most feared defense in college football. They are No. 2 in scoring defense (5.3 ppg), No. 3 in total defense (185 ypg), No. 2 in passing defense (122.8 ypg) and No. 6 in rush defense (62.5 ypg).
The Ole Miss offense does give Alabama a fresh challenge, however. The Rebels will try to get to the line of scrimmage quickly after each offensive play. This will help the Tide prepare for potential future matchups with teams like Oregon and Georgia. While it is clear that the Tide will have no problem stopping the Ole Miss offense, they will get to practice making quicker rotations.
The offense, on the other hand, would face a tougher test if they scrimmaged the Alabama scout team, instead. Yes, Ole Missed pitched a shutout last week versus Tulane. However, against the only decent offense they faced this season, against the Texas Longhorns, they yielded 66 points and 676 yards.
This could be problematic as they set to face AJ McCarron and the two headed monster of Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon. This would be a good game for the Tide coaching staff to concentrate on giving the running game a spark. While Alabama has not been horrific, they have not been great running the ball either.
In 2008, Glen Coffee was No.2 in the SEC in rushing. In 2009, Mark Ingram was No. 1 in the SEC in rushing. In 2010, Ingram was No. 10 in the SEC in rushing. In 2011, Trent Richardson was No.1 in the SEC in rushing.
The only season that Alabama did not have one of the top two rushers in the SEC was 2010 which was the only three-loss Alabama team under Nick Saban since his mulligan season in 2007.
Yeldon is currently 14th and Lacey is 16th in SEC rushing yards. To beat the elite of the SEC they will need to return to their dominant running game. Remember, they outscored their opponents 189 to 39 the first five games of the 2010 season, including a 31-6 beat down of Florida at home.
Alabama is favored by 31 in this SEC West matchup, and the Rebels will be fortunate to keep it that close. Although Freeze is doing a great job with their offense, they don't have the depth to run it successfully all season. The Ole Miss roster is already wearing down with nagging injuries. Is it worth keeping their starters in a game they can't win? Freeze would be wise to take his starters out as soon as Saban does.
Score Prediction: Alabama 52 Ole Miss 10
Stat Line: 325 yards rushing for Tide