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Ole Miss Rebels at Alabama Crimson Tide: Preview and Pick
Ole Miss Rebels at Alabama Crimson Tide: Preview and Pick
The Alabama Crimson Tide have yet to lose a game and they are still considered by nearly everyone, the best team in college football. They have had some problems and have had some tough times moving the ball on offense, but any Nick Saban team only gets better as the season goes on. They will have to get better soon as they host the Ole Miss Rebles who are also a top 25 team in the college football rankings.
Ole Miss Rebels at Alabama Crimson Tide Odds
The college football odds for this game opened up with the Crimson Tide listed as double digit favorites as they are giving (-16) points to the Rebels in this game. The Crimson Tide is getting plenty of bets from the public but it is not as high as expected as only 52 percent of the early betting action is on Alabama. Although there is even action the line has actually dropped and can now be found at (-15.5) at several of the top rated online sportsbooks.
The Crimson Tide offense has struggled especially on offense when trying to run the ball. In the last game they managed just 66 yards against Colorado State the lowest in a game since 2010. That offense will have to be ready to go to keep up with the Rebels. Ole Miss have looked decent this season, but they will have to go against history.
Ole Miss hasn't beaten Alabama since a 43-28 home win Oct. 18, 2003, and the Tide have won 11 straight meetings at Tuscaloosa, though victories in 2005, '06 and '07 were vacated due to NCAA sanctions. Ole Miss will be looking to pull off the biggest upset of the week against Alabama.
The latest college football betting trends reveal that the Rebels could put up a fight in this game. The Rebels are 4-1 against the spread (ATS) in their last 5 games after accumulating more than 200 yards rushing in their previous game, 15-5 ATS in their last 20 games after scoring more than 40 points in their previous game and 13-6 ATS in their last 19 road games against a team with a winning home record.
The Crimson Tide are 2-6 ATS in their last 8 home games, 1-4 ATS in their last 5 conference games and the Rebels are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 meetings.
Ole Miss Rebels at Alabama Crimson Tide Pick
With plenty of time before kickoff we will wait for more information to come in before we select a side on this contest. Make sure to check back on the day of the game to see who we select as our winner for this big game.
The best defense is a good offense, as cliché as that may sound. Against Alabama, if you don't sustain drives and limit turnovers, you're dead in the water. UA's 40 points off turnovers ranks in the top 20 nationally.
"For the majority of the game we took care of the football," McElwain said. "We didn't do anything silly with it until the fumble by our quarterback. Then the very next play, they go play-action touchdown."
Said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze: "Those three turnovers [in last year's game] resulted in a touchdown and two field goals. ... You don't have those and maybe we're in it in the fourth quarter."
Texas A&M was able to gash Alabama deep, but the Aggies were an outlier thanks to Johnny Manziel's ability to extend plays with his feet. Saban said there wasn't an ounce of similarity between Texas A&M and Ole Miss, who doesn't have a Johnny Manziel at quarterback or a 6-foot-5 Mike Evans at receiver.[
Instead, Ole Miss should do what it does best: push the tempo, run the football with Jeff Scott and Bo Wallace, and mix in a few deep balls with a steady dose of the short passing game.
Getting the ball out of Wallace's hands quickly might be the best way as Alabama has allowed 87.5 percent of screen passes and 61.8 percent of passes thrown for 5 or fewer yards to be completed, compared to the 44 completion percentage on passes beyond that mark.
The UA secondary isn't what it once was, especially at cornerback where it is thin on experience and numbers. Deion Belue, who took over as the team's top on-ball defender, has been hampered by injuries, John Fulton is a question mark after getting abused by Evans two weeks ago and Cyrus Jones, a sophomore who played offense a year ago, is just as shaky. The two have combined to give up 11 of 17 passes thrown their way, compared to Belue, who has allowed just one of five passes to be completed.
By spreading out the field with multiple receivers, Ole Miss could further exploit Alabama's defense. There isn't much dropoff between Donte Moncrief, Ja-Mes Logan and slot receiver Laquon Treadwell, who leads the team with 16 receptions for 154 yards. Tight end Evan Engram is a frequent target in the passing game as well, ranking 14th in the SEC in receiving yards per game (58.3).
Where Ole Miss might not have a Mike Evans to turn to as Texas A&M does, it has the edge in terms of depth.
"I think we have better receivers than A&M," Wallace told reporters. "They want to talk about Mike Evans being so good, but we have Donte [Moncrief] and I think Laquon [Treadwell, a freshman,] is going to be that way. We have better players on the outside than A&M does.
"I think we can put points on them. I think we can put points on anybody."
Offensively, Alabama does have a weakness. And unlike years past it's not by forcing the pass. Rather, the key to stopping UA is by going right at the offensive line and limiting its ability to control the line of scrimmage through the running game.
With three new starters, Alabama's offensive line hasn't gelled like many expected and, as a result, the ground game has suffered. UA, which averaged 227 yards rushing per game a season ago, was able to muster just 66 yards against CSU. UA's rushes for zero or negative yards have risen from 16.0 percent in 2012 to 28.1 percent in 2013, from third nationally to 105th.
Alabama has had trouble converting on third down, moving the sticks once every three attempts, on average, ranking 98th nationally and next to last in the SEC. Third-and-longs have been a frequent sight as 21 of Alabama's 33 third downs have come from seven or more yards out with the Tide converting on just 32.8 percent of those attempts.
Keeping the running game from getting going has in turn limited what the Tide can do in the passing game, specifically its ability to work off play-action. McCarron has seen both his completion percentage and yards per attempt drop off play-action from a year ago.
He has been sacked more, too. When he has been blitzed, his completion percentage drops from 72.5 percent to 48.1.
"I don't think we were expecting so much movement the whole game," Steen said following the season opener. "We expected some, but it felt like that whole game we were constantly moving sideways."
The line looked better against Texas A&M, but many of the troubles returned against CSU. With all the movement up front, communication issues were obvious. Missed assignments have been prevalent all season.
"We make a few mental errors where the guy doesn't pick up the [blitz] -- we had a big play on -- and it stops a drive right in the red zone and we have to kick a field goal." Saban said. "You know, a breakdown in protection and we throw an interception just trying to throw the ball away."
Expect Ole Miss to try to force the same mistakes, loading the box to stuff the run and get in the face of McCarron. A turnover here or there could be the difference in momentum, and ultimately the game.
But whatever you do, don't be basic on defense, said McElwain, whose Rams put up a healthy 278 yards of offense on Alabama, better than all but four of the Tide's opponents a season ago.
"We tried to do a couple things they hadn't seen because the defensive staff does such a good job of dissecting every single formation that you do and keying it. It's like they know what you're doing before you do sometimes. We just tried to do some things so you don't telegraph."
The simple truth, though, is that beating Alabama won't be easy. You can prod and pry McElwain for all his secrets, but he won't budge. You won't be the first to get turned down and you certainly won't be the last.
"Since I have been gone that has been a question that's come up, people wanting to know," he said. "Out of my respect for the time I was given there and the opportunity to be there, those are the things I refuse to answer and it's up to you as a coach to figure out. I would never ever breach that, I guess, unwritten code."
How many people ask? "More than you'd probably realize," he said. "My answer is the same: There's no way I'd ever do that.
"The good thing is maybe that they were trying."
The one bit of advice McElwain would divulge is so simple, yet very few teams can do it: When Alabama hits you in the mouth, don't lay down and give up.
Alabama has outscored opponents 73-24 in the first half of games this season, but that margin shrinks dramatically to 42-34 in the second half when teams get comfortable and get back to playing their game.
"What happens to teams when they play Alabama sometimes is that if the first thing doesn't work there's doubt that creeps into the opponent's mind: Can we hang? Can we actually do this?" McElwain said. "That's part of the mystique that's there."
That aura of invincibility has been dented some this season, though not completely. Ole Miss has an opportunity to learn from CSU, Virginia Tech and Texas A&M's losses and hit Alabama wear it hurts. The whole blueprint may not be there yet to dethrone the Tide, but a rough outline has come into view.
This isn't your typical Alabama offense anymore. Power running with 3 yards-and-a-cloud of dust of old is gone. The top-ranked Crimson Tide finds other ways to win.
Alabama must do so since the running game, shockingly, ranks last in the SEC with an average of 132 yards a game.
"That's something we have to keep striving for, and that starts with practice every day," center Ryan Kelly said of improving the ranking. "We finish our blocks in practice. We're going to finish them out there."
Alabama has been near the top in rushing during the three national championship years. The team averaged 225.5 yards last season, good for second in the SEC and 16th nationally.
The numbers were similar for the 2009 and 2011 title runs. The Crimson Tide led the conference and was 16th nationally in 2011 with an average of 214.5 yards and was third in the SEC in 2009 and 12th nationally at 215.1 yards a game.
"We're a new team," quarterback AJ McCarron said. "I think people need to realize that. You're not going to be the best at running every year. Some years you're going to be better throwing the ball than you are running, and vice versa."
Running the ball begins with the offensive line. The Tide has three new starters this season. One of the veterans, offensive guard Anthony Steen, missed last game with a concussion.
The linemen are still developing their communication as they adjust the blocking assignments before the snap and are learning to play next to each other.
"We made a few mental errors," head coach Nick Saban said. "It's not necessarily the plays that we call, because, as fans, everybody thinks you called bad plays because they didn't work. But why didn't they work? I think that's the most important thing."
A common breakdown Saban saw on video was missed blocking assignments by the linemen and tight ends.
However, he mostly noticed a lack of technique. Players are beaten off the block because they don't approach the play like they've been taught.
"If we're running a play and the guard is supposed to help the center block the nose or the two guy or whatever, and he doesn't do it, and the guy gets in the backfield and hits us in the backfield, that's just a lack of technique," Saban said. "Then you see the same play run again, and you make nine yards on the play when it was done correctly."
The running game worked against Texas A&M for 234 yards when the offensive linemen exerted their physical dominance. Running backs were able to run downhill, led by the 149 yards from T.J. Yeldon.
All three opponents this year committed to stop the run with defenders crowded close to the line of scrimmage, which adds to the rushing challenge.
"Obviously, teams know what Alabama is going to do," Kelly said. "We're going to run the ball. That's what a lot of teams like to do, load the box up. At some point you can't let them dictate what we're going to do. We're going to still run our offense."
When opponents try to stop the run, they dare the Crimson Tide to beat them with the pass.
That is what's different about this team. McCarron has command of the offense and can pick defenses apart with an array of talented receivers.
"We're going to play to our strengths," McCarron said. "If we gotta throw the ball, we'll throw it. If we've gotta run it, we've gotta run it. As long as we win."
McCarron is sixth in the SEC in passing with 234 yards a game, and has thrown six touchdowns.
His efficiency is down from last year, when he was rated the best in the nation, threw 30 touuchdown passes and three interceptions all year. McCarron has two interceptions through three games this season.
The linemen must pass block more than usual. With more time in the pocket, Alabama has absorbed six sacks but protected McCarron enough to be unbeaten.
"I think we did a pretty good job," Kelly said of the pass blocking. "There were times where calls weren't made, but when you see if we give AJ time, there are plays he can make with the wide receivers we have."
Win or lose (close) Saturday, this could be an important week in the arc of Ole Miss football. Playing No. 1 Alabama has the upstart Rebels in the spotlight. Instead of “next victim,” as they often have been in the series, the 3-0 Rebs now have the appearance of “next contender.”
Most coaches said that, given the program’s direction on the field -- and off it in terms of recruiting -- Ole Miss could at least be moving toward the top tier of the very tough SEC West division.
Are the Rebels ready, however, to play with Bama?
The Rebels look to have the talent to become a programs with staying power.
Other coaches are aware of the mojo Freeze has working. It started with a strong finish to the 2012 season, continued through signing day, and Ole Miss is still climbing after September road wins at Vanderbilt and Texas.
“They’re definitely heading in the right direction,” one coach said last week. “But I don’t know if they’re ready for this one [Alabama]. Just because you’re fourth in that division doesn’t mean you can beat No. 1. Look at Arkansas [under Bobby Petrino]. And they were ahead of where Ole Miss is now.”
Alabama is again getting an earful this week about how bad it is. It was the woeful offense versus Virginia Tech and Colorado State; it was the defense at Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide have been picked at more than usual, or at least more than they were this time a year ago.
Ole Miss’ best chance to threaten the Tide this week is to get into a shootout-type game. The Aggies are the standard for the influx of up-tempo philosophies in the SEC, but Freeze and the Rebels aren’t all that far behind.
You’ll recall that Ole Miss’ no-huddle offense irritated Tide coach Nick Saban last year, even in a 33-14 Alabama win.
“Schematically, they might present some challenges, but ... they’re not going to put up 42 like Texas A&M did,” one coach told me this week. “They might think they’re that talented, but they’re not.”
The offensive line, the coach added, is an area where there’s a gulf between A&M and Ole Miss. Maybe the coach didn’t recall that the Aggies had to survive last year at Ole Miss, winning 30-27 with a late Johnny Manziel-fueled rally.
Multiple coaches have tsaid that they wouldn’t be surprised to see Ole Miss take that next step in the West, becoming one of the top three teams in the division within the next two or three years. Some even think the Rebels could win the division. “If it all shakes out right,” one said.
The “ifs” surrounding the Rebels include whether they can recruit at the same high rate and whether Freeze is lured by a bigger program. But as one of the coaches said, “If you’re in the top three of either SEC division, you’re a top-15 team in the country.”
That’s the aspiration for Ole Miss and others in the league -- and Ole Miss is likely the closest to that jump. It certainly has a head start on the schools that just hired coaches, such as Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee.
As for this week, despite Freeze mentioning to Paul Finebaum that the Rebs need sustained drives, I say keep an eye on the one-on-one matchups on the outside.
If Ole Miss can run the ball at all, it could set up mismatches for big, physical targets Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell. They might not be quite as big as Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, but they could have a similar impact against the Tide corners, who have really struggled to cover bigger receivers. If the Rebels can pop long gains when they need them, they really could make it interesting.
Alabama football coach Nick Saban has a respect for Ole Miss, like all opponents.
However, he sees the 21st-ranked Rebels on the rise.
They are a confident group with five straight wins going back to last season, which includes a BBVA Compass Bowl victory over Pittsburgh.
Second-year coach Hugh Freeze implemented his fast-paced offense he calls basketball on grass, and has them off to their first 3-0 start since 1989.
“This is a very good SEC team, and we’re certainly going to have to play our best football to have any kind of success against them,” Saban said. “They’ve got a lot of starters coming back.”
Ole Miss already defeated SEC rival Vanderbilt, Southeast Missouri and Texas. While Texas isn’t Texas of old, that victory was a turning point for the program.
Alabama goes into this game as a 15-point favorite, so the Rebels have nothing to lose as they look for the next signature win to build the program.
Toppling the No. 1 Crimson Tide in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night would do the trick. They’ve only won in Tuscaloosa once in 25 games, back in 1988.
“It would mean that we’re definitely ahead of schedule in our program, to go there and win,” Freeze said. “We won’t talk about Ole Miss winning just once there. That really doesn’t matter to these kids. They don’t care. Our coaches probably don’t even know that. What should motivate us, and I think will, is an opportunity to go stand in front of the measuring stick right now and prove that you deserve to be there. That’s what we’ll focus on. If it does go our way, it would certainly be a huge boost to our program and move us a few steps forward quicker than anybody thought, including myself.”
There are 16 returning starters for Ole Miss who have made drastic improvements from last year’s 7-6 season. Hughes also signed a top-five ranked recruiting class and is using 11 true freshmen, which is tied for the the 10th-most in the country.
Alabama dominated Ole Miss over the years, besides protecting the home field. The Crimson Tide has a 46-9-2 record over the Rebels, but won’t overlook this opponent.
“It’s hard not to notice people on the way up when you play in college football,” center Ryan Kelly said. “They have a pretty good program and last year they gave us a run for our money. We’re not going to ignore that, and we’re going to get back to it this week.”
Ole Miss moves the ball with quarterback Bo Wallace and running back Jeff Scott. The Rebels are tied for fourth in the SEC in total offense at 490 yards a game and are tied for first with Auburn in red-zone offense, scoring 13 of 14 times.
The up tempo, no-huddle offense makes opponents take notice and gave the Crimson Tide defense some problems last year in the 33-14 victory.
“Bo Wallace does a really good job of operating their hurry-up, speed — effectively,” Saban said. “They’ve got really good skill players. Two or three receivers that are explosive guys, a really good tight end as a receiver and a blocker. Jeff Scott is an outstanding running back as well as a returner. And they’ve got just about everybody back on defense and some new additions that are certainly helping their defense as well.”
It’s the defense that has quarterback AJ McCarron worried. The variety of looks last year was difficult for him.
“Unbelievable, I mean, they’ve got ball players all the way around,” McCarron said of the Ole Miss defense. “They’re really good. Really good team. So it’s going to be a challenge for us, it really is. We’re going to have to step up, meet that challenge and get ready to play.”
The Rebels rank third in the SEC for rush defense at 114.3 yards a game, eighth in pass defense at 218.3 yards a game and fifth in total defense at 332 yards a game.
Linebacker Serderius Bryant with 26 tackles, and safety Cody Prewitt with two interceptions and a forced fumble make an impact. But many others contribute, so their pressure comes from all angles.
While the Ole Miss offense should be able to put points on the board, it’s the defense that could win the game. Alabama’s offense has been hit and miss this season, particularly with a running game that ranks last in the SEC at 132 yards a game.
“We have to stay focused,” receiver DeAndrew White said. “We have a big game coming up. It’s SEC and it’s Ole Miss, a rival coming to Alabama. We don’t want to take any losses. We just have to get in the film room, study up and listen to the coaches about techniques. They’ll get it all corrected with us this week.”
This will be a coming out game of sorts for the Crimson Tide. They have been under fire for not executing up to this point and will make a statement against the young up and coming Rebels. Nick Saban's genius will be on full display tonight.