TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — This is the one most people have been waiting for. Alabama travels to Oxford, Miss., on Saturday for a date with Ole Miss. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
Here are five things worth tracking when the two squads take the field:
5. Control early emotions
This one goes beyond the “we treat every opponent the same” cliche Alabama tries to push every week. This team and coaching staff are filled with competitors. Yes, the Crimson Tide went on to win the national championship last year after losing to Ole Miss. But don’t fool yourself into thinking Alabama hasn’t had this one circled.
The emotions are going to be high. That’s why Nick Saban has spent much of the week drilling the players on preparation. Saban values being prepared for every play and taking the emotion out of it. How Alabama handles the early wave of emotions will determine the outcome on Saturday.
4. Alabama wide receivers vs. Ole Miss secondary
If there’s one area Alabama’s offense can exploit, it’s the back end of the Ole Miss defense. Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois threw for 419 yards against the Rebels in the opener.
We’re not saying Jalen Hurts is going to come out and throw for 400-plus yards, but there’s nothing to suggest Ole Miss has the ability to cover Alabama’s perimeter weapons. Look for Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to do everything in his power to get the ball in the hands of receivers Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart.
3. Has the Alabama offensive line cleaned up its act?
Alabama’s offensive line committed too many unforced errors in last week’s win against Western Kentucky. False starts, holding — the penalties racked up quickly for the big guys up front.
Further, Alabama couldn’t find any rhythm in its running game. Ole Miss’ defensive front is much better than Western Kentucky’s, so Alabama’s offensive line must play its best game to date.
This week, Saban said the offensive tackles (Jonah Williams, Cam Robinson) have played well. He put the onus on the interior of the offensive line to improve.
2. Alabama’s pass rushers must get to Chad Kelly
Ole Miss’ offensive line showed it would give up pressure on Kelly in the season opener vs. Florida State, when the Seminoles totaled 6 sacks.
That has to have Alabama’s pass rushers very excited for this game. But they must stay disciplined. Alabama’s pass rushers can’t get pushed by Chad Kelly. They also can’t leave open lanes that would allow Kelly to scramble and use his legs. Getting sacks and pressure is key, but Alabama must be smart in its approach.
1. Jalen Hurts’ poise
Hurts is expected to make the first road start of his young career. He still is growing in Alabama’s offense, so that’s a work in progress.
But Hurts’ poise and leadership have been evident since day one. Hurts won’t be afraid of the stage or the moment, a big reason why Saban and Lane Kiffin trust the true freshman to lead Alabama’s offense.