Column: Five Keys to a No. 12 Ole Miss Upset of No. 1 Alabama
OXFORD, Miss. — The fall marks my 30th covering college football.
In three decades, I have covered great games, great players and great coaches. I started my career as a sports information director and I have seen more than a few coaches put together a game plan, and hopefully, I learned a thing or two.
So, from a layman, here are the five things I believe Ole Miss must do to upset Alabama today.
RUN THE FOOTBALL
Florida was able to run the football well against the Crimson Tide, rushing for 246 yards. No offense to the Gators, but Ole Miss has a better stable of running backs in Jerrion Ealy, Snoop Conner and Henry Parrish, Jr.
Running the ball successfully will also open up the play-action passing game. Matt Corral should have time to complete the quick slants and underneath routes, but a potent running attack will slow down the Alabama pass rush. Causing the Tide defensive line to be a half-step slower will give Corral time to take five or six deep shots during the game.
That seems pretty simplistic, and it is. But it is vital to the Rebels’ chances of an upset. The Landsharks are much improved from a season ago and one of the problems with last year’s defense was tackling. Ole Miss missed too many, allowing opposing runners to gain a lot of extra yardage which translated into lots of points.
Ole Miss simply needs the first defender to secure the tackle and then allow the rest of the defense to come in and provide the hits to possibly jar the ball loose.
Ole Miss needs to collect them and avoid giving them up. In the last two wins against Alabama, the Rebels were able to force Bama into fumbles and interceptions. In the last victory in 2015, two Tide fumbles and an interception led to 17 points for Ole Miss and that was the difference in the game.
In the past five meetings – all Alabama wins – The Tide has turned the ball over five times while Ole Miss has lost possession eight times.
Only once in that time has Ole Miss won the turnover margin and that was last season.
For the season, the Rebels are plus-3 in turnovers while Alabama is plus-5.
Ole Miss needs to force at least three turnovers and take care of the ball itself.
LIMIT BIG PLAYS AND GET SOME
Both Alabama and Ole Miss have proven they have the capability to score from long distances. The Crimson Tide has four players who have had a rush of over 20 yards this season and eight receivers who have had a catch of at least 20 yards. All three Tide quarterbacks who have thrown a pass this year have completed one over 20 yards.
Ole Miss also has four players who have had a 20-plus yard run this year. Seven Rebels have also had a catch over 20 yards.
Defensively, the Crimson Tide has given up a long run of 30 yards and that came against Florida. Mercer was able to complete a 60-yard touchdown pass to Mercer, but that was against the Bama reserves while the Tide had a 38-0 lead.
The news is not as good for the Landsharks this year. Ole Miss has surrendered a long run of 40 yards, and Louisville completed a pass of 50 yards, Austin Peay one of 51 yards and Tulane had a 40 yarder. In each game, the Ole Miss opponent had four receivers catch a pass of at least 20 yards.
THE ARENA EFFECT
I spent three years of my career covering arena football. Ole Miss needs to think in terms of the philosophy of that sport. The Rebels already have adopted the offensive game plan from the indoor game by going at a break-neck speed and try to run as many plays as possible.
Where the Rebels need to emulate the arena game is on defense. There is no punting in the indoor game, so holding the opposition to a field goal is considered a stop.
Ole Miss needs to add holding Alabama to field goal attempts to punts and turnovers.
If the Rebels can force the Tide into kicking for three instead of getting into the end zone, while scoring touchdowns themselves, it could be interesting in Tuscaloosa.
But don’t take my word for it. And never ask a sportswriter who will win a game. If I could accurately predict the outcome of a sporting event before it happened, I would not be a sportswriter. I would have the biggest house in Las Vegas.
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.