The No. 21 Ole Miss Rebels collide with No. 1 Alabama Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium. For the Rebels to pull off a program-first win over a No. 1, the red and blue must be able to slow down quarterback A.J. McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon and the rest of the Crimson Tide offense.
Come 5:30 p.m. CST on ESPN, Hugh Freeze will look to advance his program to a 4-0 start for the first time in 43 years (1970). When that last happened, Ole Miss was led by a coach named Vaught and a quarterback by the last name of Manning. It's definitely been a while.
With an all-time record of 1-16 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, having not defeated the Tide on the road since 1988 (the only time), the Rebel defense will have to be stout if they hope to snap the road skid.
Rebel QB Bo Wallace, RB Jeff Scott and trio of prolific wide receivers Donte Moncrief, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell will help Ole Miss put points on the board in Tuscaloosa, make no mistake about it.
If not, it could prove to be another "close, but no cigar" trip to T-Town.
Here are Five Keys to Slowing the Tide Offense:
1. Be Disruptive Early
From the first time they take the field, the Rebel D must make its presence known.
While forcing three-and-outs in the first few series would be ideal, mainly what Ole Miss must do is let the Tide offense know that they're in for a true battle.
Whether it's DE Robert Nkemdiche getting into the backfield and krattling McCarron, LB Serderius Bryant making a big-time hit on Yeldon, etc., it'll be imperative that Ole Miss disrupt the Alabama offense from the first time they take the field.
The worst thing that could happen to the Rebels would be for Bama to come out and move the ball at will in the opening quarter, whether that be by way of missed tackles, blown coverages, etc.
2. 2nd Quarter Success
As a team, Nick Saban's club is outscoring its opponents by a combined score of 45-5 in the second quarter of games this season. That's a pretty daunting figure. To make things even worse, Ole Miss has "been" outscored by a combined score of 17-37 in the second quarter this year.
The outcome of the second quarter this weekend may ultimately be the difference in the contest.
The Tide are currently averaging 15 second-quarter points each time out. If the Rebel defense could hold Alabama to no more than a couple of field goals or a single touchdown in the second period of play Saturday night, you'd have to believe the Ole Miss offense could at worst match the points.
3. Limit Big Plays
As was evidenced after Colorado State QB Garret Grayson fumbled in the fourth quarter, the Crimson Tide offense made the Rams pay after McCarron connected with WR DeAndrew White for a 30-yard touchdown strike on the very next play (essentially putting the game out of reach).
With the talent level Alabama possesses at every position on the field, it'll be crucial that the Rebel defense not get caught sleeping for even a single play. If they do, the Tide will make them pay, too.
Players like McCarron, Yeldon and WRs Amari Cooper and White are simply going to make big plays at various times during the game. Knowing that's inevitable, the Rebel D must limit the number of those big plays to a minimum. Bend, but don't break.
4. Play Tough Red-zone Defense
Through the first three games of 2013, the Ole Miss defense has allowed its opponents to go 9-of-9 on red-zone scoring opportunities. To make matters worse, opponents have put the ball across the goal line seven of those nine times.
How has the Alabama offense fared in red zone?
They've put up six touchdowns in seven trips.
When the Rebels are backed up inside their own 20 this weekend, they must hold the Tide to field-goal attempts at least half the time.
5. Hold Yeldon and Co. Under 140 Yards Rushing
Since 2008, the Crimson Tide are an astounding 42-0 when rushing for 140-plus yards in a game.
Heading into Saturday's SEC West showdown, Bama is averaging 132 yards rushing per game. However, the Rebel defense is only allowing 114.3 yards per game on the ground. Either way, both of those numbers fall below that magical 140-yard mark.
The last time out, the Tide were held to 66 yards rushing on 21 attempts. Ouch.
Having seen how the Rams fared against the Alabama ground game, one would have to believe the already stiff Rebel rush defense would enter the game focused on slowing the ground game.
Keep an eye on the Alabama rushing total at the end of the game.
Putting It All Together
As already mentioned, the Ole Miss offense is going to find ways to score against an Alabama defense that got lit up against Texas A&M. No, Wallace isn't Johnny Football, but he's a solid athlete that's surrounded by offensive weapons galore.
The biggest factor in determining whether or not Ole Miss can slay Goliath Saturday night in T-Town will be how efficient the Rebel defense is against the Tide offense. If the red and blue fare well in the five categories mentioned above, then they'll have more than a fighter's chance to leave with the W.