Alabama Football: 10 Things We Learned from the Week 5 Win over Ole Miss
Considering how the rest of the majority of top teams across the nation seemed to struggle this weekend, Alabama fittingly fended off its toughest challenge to date by outlasting Ole Miss for a 33-14 victory.
Both the offense and defense had moments of sloppy play seemingly bailed out by timely big plays and a terrific showing by the Tide’s special teams unit.
Nick Saban’s defense forced three first-half turnovers that ultimately provided a 20-point cushion that Alabama would never relinquish.
What can Tide fans take away from the hard-fought victory over the Rebels?
Here are 10 things we learned from the Week 5 win over Ole Miss.
10. OL Needs Work
Alabama’s offensive line began the season billed as one of the nation’s best units in the trenches, but like its effort against Western Kentucky in Week 2, the Tide’s big uglies struggled against a team that elite line units would handle with ease.
The Rebels’ defensive line held Alabama without a rushing touchdown for the first time this season and gave up only 125 yards on the ground in total.
A.J. McCarron was pressured several times and running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon were consistently hounded thanks to penetration by Ole Miss’ defensive line.
With several opponents looming that have more talented defensive fronts than the Rebels possess, Saban and his staff will have to get this sorted out during the bye week.
9. McCarron Is Steadying Force
McCarron may not have had a huge game numbers-wise—he went 22-of-30 for 180 yards and two touchdowns—but he remained efficient and made timely throws especially on third downs.
He was also able to scramble away from pressure and avoid negative plays and turnovers.
Despite a tough game for the offense, McCarron bailed them out and continues to show his progression from last season.
8. Special Teams Unit Has Improved
The biggest play of the game came in the second quarter after Alabama was facing its first deficit since the Tennessee game last season.
After Ole Miss took a 7-6 lead on a Jeff Scott one-yard touchdown run, Christion Jones took the ensuing kickoff and darted 99-yards for the go-ahead score to put Alabama up 13-7.
Alabama would trail for only 15 seconds, and Jones essentially buried the momentum Ole Miss had gained with its long scoring drive.
Considering that Jeremy Shelley booted four field goals, the Tide’s special teams unit played a huge role in notching the win over the Rebels.
The only negative would be the late injury suffered by punt returner Dee Hart, who was playing well in that role before he left the field in the waning moments.
7. Cooper Ready to Bust Loose
The wide receiver unit has been solid all season long, but there has been a committee approach with regards to which pass-catchers step up each game.
With DeAndrew White leaving the game early with an injury, and Kevin Norwood also banged up, freshman Amari Cooper seized his opportunity and came up with two highlight reel touchdown catches that propelled the Tide to a 27-7 halftime lead.
Cooper snagged eight receptions—five more than any other Tide target—and appeared to gain McCarron’s trust late in the game on third-and-long situations.
This performance could be a sign of big things to come in the future for Cooper’s role in the offense.
6. Third-Down Efficiency
Alabama’s struggles on offense had a lot to do with failing to win on first and second down against the Rebels defensive front.
However, the offense pulled it together enough to convert on 11-of-18 tries on third down—including several third-and-long situations.
The aforementioned McCarron-to-Cooper connection worked, but the Tide’s signal-caller found several targets on crossing routes that helped extend drives.
While the offense struggled to run the ball, the line stepped up and gave McCarron time to find an open man on the money down.
5. Red Zone Struggles Continue
None of Shelley’s four field goals were longer than 38 yards out, which means that Alabama was able to score just two touchdowns on six possessions inside the red zone.
The offense experienced similar frustrations last weekend’s win over Florida Atlantic.
The number of trips into the red zone is an accomplishment in itself, but Alabama’s offense cannot take the next step and become an elite unit until it rectifies its issues punching it in inside the red zone.
4. Run Game Struggles
In wins over Michigan, Arkansas and FAU, Alabama has rushed for more than 200 yards and averaged more than five yards per carry on the ground in what turned out to be decisive victories.
Alabama averaged less than four yards per carry and gained barely more than 100 yards against Western Kentucky in Week 2—and repeated a similar effort against Ole Miss.
While Eddie Lacy’s numbers looked decent (19 carries for 82 yards), he and Yeldon were largely held in check by an Ole Miss defense that is in the middle of the pack (seventh in rushing defense) in the SEC.
With tougher opponents left to battle, the Tide will have to rediscover the ability to wear its opponents down by pounding the ball on the ground.
3. Forced Turnovers Save Sloppy Performance
Alabama’s secondary stepped up to the challenge posed by a dynamic group of Ole Miss receivers led by Donte Moncrief.
Dee Milliner, Deion Belue and Robert Lester each picked off a pass in the second quarter—with the first interception directly leading to Cooper’s first touchdown reception.
The big plays created by the secondary helped to mask an inefficient day offensively and a substandard day in comparison to the Tide’s lofty defensive standards.
2. Second-Half Slumber
Instead of coming out flat to start the game, Alabama clearly lacked the intensity it began with when the second-half rolled around.
Maybe it had to do with the unusual late kickoff, but regardless, the Rebels actually outscored Alabama 7-6 in the final 30 minutes of the game.
If anything, Alabama proved that it could still put away a pesky opponent comfortably without playing close to its best football.
Still, that is a recipe that Saban will surely try to avoid moving forward.
1. Defense Must Learn from Its Mistakes
Alabama only surrendered 218 yards and 14 points to an offense that entered the contest against the Tide putting up an average of 488 yards and nearly 37 points per game.
The scrappy Rebels were able to muster two long scoring drives against Alabama by attacking the flats with passes out of the backfield and executing their zone-read plays in an up-tempo pace.
With teams like Missouri, Mississippi State and Texas A&M (all teams that employ similar offensive schemes) left on its schedule, the challenge for Saban and his defense is to eliminate the holes in their unit that will be visible on this film.