It wasn't one of the marquee SEC matchups heading into the season, but No. 21 Ole Miss will travel to No. 1 Alabama Saturday night in one of the more intriguing matchups of the young season.
The Rebels are 3-0 and fresh off a bye week, while the top-ranked Crimson Tide have a tight grip on the No. 1 ranking, despite showing some weaknesses early in the season.
The Crimson Tide rank 11th in the SEC in pass defense, giving up 250.3 yards per game. Sure, that statistic is skewed a bit after Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel torched them for 464 yards and five touchdowns two weeks ago, with star wide receiver Mike Evans hauling in seven passes for 279 yards and a touchdown.
That's what should concern Alabama, because Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze has likely been sitting back for the last two weeks thinking, "my team can do that."
He'd be right.
The reason they can is 6'3", 215-pound true freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.
Treadwell has 16 catches for 154 yards on the season and emerged as a go-to target for quarterback Bo Wallace in the Rebels' 39-35 season-opening win at Vanderbilt. He has a big frame, has home run speed, long arms with hands like glue and presents a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs.
Basically, he's a slightly shorter version of Mike Evans.
That's a problem, because not only was Alabama thin at cornerback heading into the season, but the injury bug has also taken a toll.
Cornerbacks Deion Belue (toe) and "star" Jarrick Williams (eye) sat out the Colorado State game last week, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com. Roster uncertainty in the defensive backfield isn't ideal for Alabama, especially considering cornerback John Fulton was picked on by Manziel and Evans in College Station.
Ole Miss has an established star at wide receiver with 6'3", 226-pound Donte Moncrief lining up on the other side of the field. That means Belue—assuming he's healthy—will likely draw Moncrief more times than not. Should Alabama have confidence in its No. 2 cornerback—whether that's Fulton or somebody else—shutting down Treadwell?
Nope. Not from what we've seen this year.
Just how good are Ole Miss' wide receivers? Better than A&M's, according to Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace.
"I think we have better receivers than A&M," Wallace said according to Michael Casagrande of AL.com. "They want to talk about Mike Evans being so good, but we have Donte (Moncrief) and I think Laquon (Treadwell) is going to be that way. We have better players on the outside than A&M does."
Alabama is going to have to roll over safety help to slow down the Treadwell/Moncrief tandem, which means bigger running lanes for Wallace and running back Jeff Scott— two guys who thrive when Freeze cranks up the tempo and runs that no huddle.
Will Laquon Treadwell have more than 100 receiving yards vs. Alabama?
This is a very dangerous game for Alabama.
Head coach Nick Saban has been one of the most vocal opponents to hurry-up offenses, due in large part to his inability to get proper personnel on the field depending on the situation. Couple that with two wide receivers who are ready-made to exploit one of too few glaring weaknesses of this Alabama team, and this is a recipe for disaster for the Tide.
For Alabama to win this game, it's going to have to be better in the defensive backfield, and that starts up front. Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace is prone to interceptions after throwing 17 last season, but hasn't slipped up, so far, this season. For that to change, the Bama front seven need to come right at him.
Wallace is a dual-threat, but he isn't as slippery as Manziel. That means guys like linebacker Adrian Hubbard and defensive lineman Ed Stinson need to have big days to prevent Ole Miss from hitting those big plays downfield.