Wesley McGriff prepares for Rebels’ biggest test this season against No. 1 Alabama
Jalen Hurts is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in all of college football. His ability to avoid tackles and scramble outside of the pocket to make plays with his feet presents Ole Miss defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff with his biggest test thus far this season.
One of Hurts‘ most notable traits is his running ability. In four games this season, the sophomore has rushed 45 times for 360 yards (tied for 4th in the SEC) and three touchdowns. He’s averaging eight yards per carry this season, with his longest run of 55 yards coming against Fresno State in week two of the season.
In order to defeat the Crimson Tide, Ole Miss will need to contain the Alabama quarterback and force him to pass the ball. As a true freshman last season, Hurts ran for 146 yards against the Rebels, en route to leading the Tide to a 48-43 come-from-behind victory in Oxford.
“I haven’t seen a quarterback run as smoothly as he does in a long time,” McGriff said of the talented Hurts, who hasn’t thrown an interception this season.
“It is going to be important that we stay simple, play fast and be able to tear off blocks.”
Ole Miss defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff
Hurts is just one part of the offensive juggernaut McGriff’s defense will face Saturday night inside Bryant-Denny Stadium (8:00 p.m., ESPN).
Alabama, the defending SEC champion, has three solid running backs to whom Hurts can hand the football. Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, and Najee Harris have been splitting carries so far this season for the Crimson Tide. Harris leads the trio in rushing yards (309) and rushing touchdowns (6). Scarbrough has rushed for 221 yards and three scores. Harris has rushed for 156 yards on 30 carries.
Top-ranked Alabama’s rushing offense ranks fifth in the nation (303.3 yards per game), and the Rebels’ rushing defense, which is giving up an average of 184 yards per game on the ground, will have to be alert at all times as they will be facing a multitude of Crimson Tide weapons.
“It forces us to play more to the run fits. We will give them more changes up front so we are not always in the same gap or technique.”
Earlier this week, head coach Matt Luke addressed the Rebels’ injuries heading into the team’s SEC opener.
Center Sean Rawlings suited out the latter part of the week but did not practice as he’s dealing with an ankle sprain. “He was fully dressed out and was out there, but he did not do anything live against the defense and probably will not be able to until Saturday,” Luke said of his junior center. “He’s played enough to where I feel confident to where he could do it without that many reps. He is out there snapping and getting mental reps.”
Luke said Rawlings will test his ability to go during warm-ups on Saturday night to see if he can give it a go on the offensive line. If Rawlings can’t play, junior guard Jordan Sims will start at center.
Wide receiver A.J. Brown and defensive end Victor Evans practiced this week and Luke thinks both will play following injuries they suffered in the game vs. Cal.
Kicker Gary Wunderlich is recovering from a strained hamstring and is expected to play Saturday. Kickoff specialist Luke Logan will kick if Wunderlich isn’t able to play.
Ole Miss: The Rebels (2-1) have won two of the last three games in this series after Alabama had taken the previous 10 meetings. Ole Miss is 0-9 all-time against teams ranked No. 1 in the AP poll.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0 SEC) defense has notched at least one takeaway in 31 straight games. This is the longest streak by any FBS team since Houston had 1+ takeaway in 34 consecutive games from September 15, 2012 – November 28, 2014.