TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Heading into Alabama’s SEC opener against Mississippi, we enlisted a little help to get a feel for Ole Miss ahead of the game Saturday.
Top-ranked Alabama (2-0) is coming off a 38-10 win against Western Kentucky in its home opener. Ole Miss (1-1) defeated Wofford 38-13 in Week 2.
Brad Logan, Gridiron Now
Question: In what ways do you think Chad Kelly and Ole Miss’ offense can have success against Alabama’s defense?
Brad Logan: Ole Miss and Chad Kelly will have to lean on tight end Evan Engram. He is a matchup problem for every team Ole Miss will face this season. The Rebels are without two running backs, Eric Swinney (knee) and Jordan Wilkins (academics), in a running game that wasn’t expected to be great. This will only make Ole Miss more one-dimensional against a lightning-fast Crimson Tide defense. Ole Miss must give Kelly time to throw. If that happens, the Rebels have an uber-talented receiving corps that makes plays. If the offensive line doesn’t play superb, it will be a long day in Oxford.
Question: What lesser-known unit or Ole Miss player should Alabama fans know about?
Logan: Defensive line. Ole Miss lost Robert Nkemdiche last season to the NFL, but the unit could be better than the 2015 unit. Issac Gross, the senior nose tackle, is back after a neck injury. He’s had a wonderful fall camp and season so far. Ole Miss is also very pleased with freshman defensive tackle Benito Jones. Breeland Speaks has been a bright spot, playing both defensive end and defensive tackle. Marquis Haynes, weakside defensive end, has proven to be as unblockable as Gross so far this season. Alabama looks as though it is working through offensive line issues, so if Ole Miss has a chance on Saturday, it must have a productive day applying pressure to freshman QB Jalen Hurts.
Question: Ole Miss’ offensive line gave up 6 sacks against Florida State. What has the coaching staff done over the last two weeks to clean those things up heading into a matchup with Alabama’s pass rushers?
Logan: Oddly enough, it was not technique as much as the opponent. The offensive line did a terrific job protecting Kelly against Florida State in the first half. The second half was a different story, simply because of the halftime adjustments by FSU and the ‘Nole defensive front deciding they wanted to play. The Seminoles stunted much more, and, if anything, gave the young OL a look at what is to come this season in SEC play. Ole Miss and its coaching staff received a wakeup call and are better for it.
Question: How does Ole Miss’ secondary plan to defend Alabama’s receivers like Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart as well as tight end O.J. Howard and others?
Logan: I’m not sure they can. The top cover corner in Ken Webster was lost for the season against Florida State due to a knee injury. The Rebel secondary was lit up like a Christmas tree in the second half against the Seminoles and will have quite the chore against the Tide. While Ole Miss will game-plan accordingly to limit Ridley and Stewart, O.J. Howard is a matchup nightmare. I expect the tight end to have a banner day on Saturday. Ole Miss doesn’t have a linebacker on the team that can cover him. I’m not sure anyone in the country does.
Question: What’s your feel for the game and prediction?
Logan: I have to believe Nick Saban has circled this one all season. Saban hasn’t lost three consecutive games to any program in his stint at Alabama. Emotion aside, Alabama simply has a much better defense than Ole Miss, and that probably will win out in the end. While Ole Miss has one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, defense wins championships, and Alabama looks to have a clear path to the College Football Playoff this season.