Here are 3 things the Alabama offense can learn from last year’s defeat to Ole Miss. The Crimson Tide looks to avenge back-to-back losses.
Perimeter Run Game:
Alabama likes to hammer the ball inside, but also runs a ton of perimeter plays: jet sweeps, reverses and end arounds.
It does so for multiple reasons:
- It has superior athletes who can beat defenders to the boundary.
- It better disguises their running game.
- It helps produce a lethal down the field play-action attack.
- It reveals the defensive coverage pre-snap.
- It gets the defense flowing to one side of the field.
When they work, they’re great. When they don’t, a team is stuck running laterally rather than moving forward and gaining yards.
Last year, Ole Miss did a really good job of staying disciplined against the Tide’s perimeter run game and limiting its impact.
You can see here how quick they flow to the ball and maintain outside leverage; forcing the ball carrier to turn into a pair of defenders.
There were also self-inflicted issues. The accuracy issues of quarterbacks Cooper Bateman and Jacob Coker meant that any attempts at deep play-action shots were nullified.
Although they were ineffective last year, Alabama should stick with the ghost motions and sweep plays on Saturday. They may not have generated positive plays, but they had their required effect. The quarterbacks just could not take advantage.
Dave Wommack’s Ole Miss defense plays in a one-gap scheme; the defensive line cuts it loose, and the linebackers flow to the ball. That flow is where Alabama can take advantage.
Here is an example from last year’s matchup:
You can see how the defensive linemen crash down, and the linebackers have their eyes or feet following the motion.
Bateman and Coker were unable to take advantage: pulling the ball down and running, or hitting an accurate play-action pass. Now, Alabama has Jalen Hurts. A dual threat quarterback who has the arm talent to throw the ball anywhere on the field, or pull the ball out and take-off against the flow of the defense.
It’s a new dynamic that makes Alabama’s perimeter run game more deadly. Ole Miss is one of the few programs in the country that can matchup with Alabama athletically. That was enough to shut down Alabama’s perimeter game a year ago. With Hurts now at quarterback, it puts pressure on every defensive player to maintain their gap discipline on every play.
Using OJ Howard:
In the passing game, Lane Kiffin likes to use 3 x 1 formations with Alabama’s top receiver isolated on one side of the field. The goal is to force the defense to reveal coverage before the snap; often rotating a safety to double-team the Tide’s top receiving threat.
With Alabama starting true freshman Hurts at quarterback, simplifying reads is vital. However, against Ole Miss, it would be a smart idea for Alabama to isolate tight end OJ Howard.
Last year the Rebels had little answer for Howard. He had the best regular season game of his career, catching 4 passes for 70 yards. His size, speed and versatility is a mismatch that Ole Miss cannot handle. Putting him as the isolation man will either generate a favorable 1-on-1 matchup for Howard, or give Alabama’s other top receivers opportunities.
Alabama could combine isolated formations with some pre-snap movement; starting Howard in-line, before motioning him to the edge. Doing so will give Hurts a good indication of whether he is facing man or zone coverage and allow him to predetermine matchups.
Opt for the pass over the run:
Unusually, Alabama has had trouble running the ball in its 2 games this season. Replacing a Heisman winning running back, a first-round center and a starting quarterback have all been contributing factors.
Given that, unlike last year, the Tide should opt to throw the ball over running it when the opportunity presents itself.
Kiffin likes to run “check with me” run-pass option plays (RPOs) from double-stack formations. The alignment empties the box, and Kiffin calls either a run or pass play from the sideline after seeing how the defense matches up against the stacks.
In the 2015 matchup, when presented with favorable looks to run or throw the ball, Kiffin chose the running play.
With a dominant running back and empty boxes it seemed like the right choice. But the athletic ability and talent of Ole Miss’ front won many battles and stuffed the running game.
That front remains just as talented and athletic this year, despite losing Robert Nkemdiche. Against Florida State they stuffed 12 runs, and hit or sacked the quarterback 11 times.
Facing similar looks on Saturday, Kiffin should opt for the built-in quick screen passes, giving his receiving weapons a chance to win 1-on-1 matchups against Ole Miss’ weaker secondary.