Keys for Ole Miss to turn back the Tide
The Ole Miss Land Shark Defense will be key in Saturday’s game. (Photo Credit: Bentley Breland)
This weekend’s game in Oxford between Ole Miss (4-0, 1-0 SEC) and Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) features two teams vying to stay on top of the SEC West, arguably the best division in the FBS. The winner will remain undefeated in the conference and receive a giant boost in its quest for the West.
Alabama enters the contest ranked No. 3 in the nation, while the Rebels are ranked No. 11. ESPN’s College Game Day will be in the Grove for the first time ever, and the hype will be legendary for the nationally televised game on CBS at 2:30 p.m. CT.
But no matter how much Leo Corso excites or infuriates the Grove with his pre-game pick, Ole Miss needs to follow a simple formula to beat the Tide.
First, let’s take a look at Alabama’s season so far.
How the Tide has rolled
Alabama may or may not be as strong as they have been in years past; however, they do have a very well-balanced team. They are undefeated and coming off a strong second half against Florida.
After playing inconsistently in the first half, Alabama took a 7-point lead into the locker room. The Gators scored in the third quarter on Alabama’s fourth, yes, fourth, turnover of the game. But after that, the Tide reeled off 21 unanswered points and doubled up Florida for a 42-21 final.
Alabama opened the season against West Virginia, and that game was similar to their last. A small 3-point lead at halftime turned into a 10-point win thanks to a stifling defense and an offense that just kept going.
The Tide’s other two wins were against FAU and Southern Miss. As is normal with a Nick Saban team, the defense shuts down opponents, and this year that has been particularly true in the second half.
Keys to a Rebel Victory
So what do the Rebels need to do in order to win this game and stake their claim to the SEC West? If they can implement the three keys below, they should be on their way to a huge win in Vaught-Hemingway stadium:
First key: Pressure the quarterback
Ole Miss has a great defense–they are ranked No. 3 in Total Defense, only giving up 8.5 points-per-game–and they must continue this level of play to beat Alabama. The Rebels will need to pressure quarterback Blake Sims, something his opponents have been unable to do so far. Ole Miss is second in the nation in passes intercepted with nine. Adding to that number against the Tide could go a long way towards swinging the game in the Rebels’ favor.
The Ole Miss run defense will need to keep the Tide behind the chains for 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-six to seven. This will put increased pressure on Blake Sims’ inexperience, which the Rebels should then be able to exploit. One of Sims’ favorite targets is Amari Cooper, second in the nation with 655 receiving yards, and covering him will be paramount to success on defense.
Second Key: Good decisions by Bo Wallace
The second key will be for Bo Wallace to make good decisions on passing downs. Turnovers are always momentum-killers, and the Rebels will have a hard time overcoming them against a team as talented as Alabama.
Bo will need to be ready to throw the ball away or even take a sack, if needed, to keep a drive going. His current completion percentage is 71%, and it will take another stellar effort from him for Ole Miss to defeat the top-ranked Tide.
Third Key: Don’t Blink
Coach Freeze and his staff often remind Rebel players that a game lasts sixty minutes. They tell them not to blink and to play until the clock is at 0:00. The last key to the game, therefore, is to remember the game is four quarters long. (This one may well last more than 4 hours if one factors in all the stoppages for television timeouts.)
Fortunately, the ability to finish is an area in which the Rebels have been extremely consistent this year. In the season opener against Boise State, Ole Miss did not have the kind of first half they were hoping for, but prevailed in the second half due to their determination. Last week against Memphis, the Rebels looked a little flat in the first half, but, once again, came on strong in the second.
Getting motivated to play one of their biggest games in years will not be a problem for Ole Miss, and Coach Freeze will have his team ready. This game will go down to the very end, and the Rebels definitely have what it takes to win.
If the Rebels put pressure on Blake Sims, have good decision-making from Bo Wallace, and commit to playing the entire game without flinching, this game could possibly become an instant classic and vault Ole Miss into the top 5 with a victory.