Rebel RoundUp: Twelfth-Ranked Rebels Are Comin’ In Hot, Tuscaloosa
No. 12 Rebels head to T-Town to take on No. 1 Alabama
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s finally here! Game day in Tuscaloosa! There are plenty of different ways to describe this game. One could start with that it’s a Top-25 matchup, how Lane Kiffin is trying to be the first Saban assistant to best his former boss. Or, how this match-up features the two Heisman front runners in Ole Miss’ Matt Corral and Bryce Young.
But perhaps we should all just listen to head coach Lane Kiffin — maybe all of that is really ‘rat poison,’ as he calls the compliments that can lead one to drop his guard.
So let’s put the pageantry aside as Ole Miss rides into T-Town to take on Alabama and take a look at the facts.
Ole Miss has looked electric in its first three games, but those were all games the Rebels were predicted to win. The Red and Blue take a 3-0 record into the contest, along with one the nation’s most productive offense.
On the other side is Alabama who is already battle-tested heading into Week Five. The Tide had what was predicted to be a tough contest against Miami to start the season and handled it with ease. Then, in Week Three Bama handled a tough Florida opponent on the road in The Swamp.
Let’s just say Nick Saban’s team is very cognizant of who he’s playing this week.
“Ole Miss has an outstanding team… I think they’ve got like 17 starters back from a team that won (five) games last year. Lane does an outstanding job with their offense. Their overall team is improved in every category – defense, special teams. They really are playing extremely well. This is one of the best offensive teams in the country, no doubt.”
Nick Saban on the Rebels
Saban is also aware of who Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral is and what he brings to the table.
“He played really well against us last year. The guy is very elusive. He can extend plays, very accurate passer, executes their offense extremely well. He can make plays with his feet. He does pull the ball every now and then… He is about as talented a guy as anybody we’ve seen, run and pass, for a long time.”
Nick Saban on Matt Corral
As for Coach Kiffin, he knows exactly what Alabama is capable of.
“I think they’re even better. I said last year was a great team, maybe his best team ever, and I think people thought maybe I was just saying that leading up to the game. But then you look and they run the table and not really close games. I think somebody said, in the last two years, only Florida and Ole Miss have scored over 24 points against them. I think they’re better on defense with the Tennessee linebacker added in. [Will Anderson] is now older and as good as any rusher in the country. We’ll have our hands full.”
Lane Kiffin on Alabama
With a Little Help From Our Friends
This game is different and it has a different energy leading up to it, so we’re going to approach it a little differently. We’re going to go position by position in this piece, as we always do, and see who has the edge. But this week, we’ve also been able to get some expert analysis when discussing the Tide. Stephen M. Smith of Touchdown Alabama Magazine graciously agreed to give us his thoughts on the game and the matchups.
Before we get into it, understand that these position battles don’t take the opposition into account. It is solely position group vs. position group and how they stack up (i.e. Bama WRs vs Ole Miss WRs).
Please note that although Stephen M. Smith is featured a lot in this article — and we’re so happy to have him — the “advantages” at each position group are my own thoughts based on my research and his analysis given to me.
- Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 2nd, 2:30 PM CT
- TV: CBS
- Memphis: WHBQ-AM 560
- Oxford: WOXF-FM 105.1
- Jackson: WFMN-FM 97.3
- Betting Lines:
- Bama: -14.5
- O/U: 77.5
- Ole Miss Moneyline: +570
- Alabama Moneyline: -900
This game features the two Heisman front runners and both are rightfully so. There are a lot of similarities in stats and some of the physical traits these two possess, but they are wildly different when watching them play.
Ole Miss QB
Starting with Ole Miss, every Rebel knows Matt Corral. He’s exciting. He’s electric. He’s a gunslinger. Corral has been dissecting defenses with his arm and his legs.
Corral excels at manipulating safeties with his eyes making for open downfield targets. He has a live arm that makes him one of the best deep-ball throwers in the entire nation. One area in which Corral really wows is with his accuracy in the middle of the field as he places balls into some really tight windows.
This year we’ve seen Corral take another jump in his production, despite losing Elijah Moore and Kenny Yeboah to the NFL. Corral has thrown for 997 yards and has reached 14 total touchdowns — with no interceptions. His 158 yards on the ground have to be talked about as he adds another threat to this Ole Miss offense.
Really impressed with Ole Miss QB Matt Corral’s growth through the first quarter of the season.
This is a dart in the soft spot of Cover 2 between the CB and Safety on the sideline. Watch the ball placement. pic.twitter.com/eeD1TmsoxK
— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) September 22, 2021
This year, with the help of the Ole Miss defense running a 3-2-6, Corral has really tightened up on his preparation against zone coverage and has been very accurate hitting soft spots. In year two, Corral has taken full control of the offense and has orchestrated it almost perfectly.
On the opposite end, Bryce Young has really come into his own over the last couple of weeks. One could argue his performance against Southern Miss was perfect. He ended that game 20-of-22 for 313 yards, five touchdowns, and an interception. The one interception was a well-placed but aggressive ball that was bobbled by Jameson Williams and eventually picked off.
Contrary to Corral’s electricity, Young is appears calm. When plays go sideways, the Bama QB remains the same and has a very good ability to extend plays with his legs. His rushing stats do him no justice as he has the ability to be mobile.
Bryce Young was able to avoid being sack by Florida's linebacker Mohamoud Diabate in this play. I for one would like for Bryce to use his legs more when he has open space to run#RollTide 🅰️🌊🐘 pic.twitter.com/Y11kiawx2C
— Alabama Rydeouts 🐘🅰️ (@MarvinBama16) September 21, 2021
Here is Stephen’s analysis of Young so far from someone who has seen more of the QB:
“Bryce Young has fared well through four games. He is tied for second in college football with 15 TD passes, and his QBR of 87.7 is sixth in the sport. He possesses really good accuracy, timing, anticipation, and decision-making on passes. Young has dual-threat capabilities but he doesn’t choose to run the ball. He likes to extend plays and being able to find open receivers… As he continues to grow, he will get better at trusting his athletic abilities to run. I think he has done well with executing protections, escaping sacks, and working the vertical passing game.”
Stephen M. Smith of Touchdown Alabama on Bryce Young
Advantage: The fans. We win with this matchup. Enjoy two of the best going against each other
Ole Miss RBs
At running back, Ole Miss returns one of the best rushing trios in the SEC. The Rebels actually led the SEC in rushing last year and returns virtually all of their production. Although some of that can be credited to Corral, the trio of Jerrion Ealy, Henry Parrish, and Snoop Conner has been nothing short of impressive.
Ealy has been the feature back so far as Ole Miss has even lined him up in the slot to be more of a threat as a receiver. His agility and burst allow him to make men miss, and his speed makes him dangerous if he bounces to the outside. On the season Ealy is averaging 6.1 yards per rush and leads Ole Miss with 190 yards.
Parrish has been the rotation switch for Ealy so far. The talented sophomore is off to a hot start to begin the year, averaging a whopping 7.0 yards per carry. Parrish is gaining plenty of experience after excelling in the latter half of 2020.
Then we have Snoop Conner. A fan favorite for Ole Miss fans, he has been a big force in the red zone for the Rebels this season. Outside of Corral, he leads the team in rushing touchdowns and provides a big change of pace for this high-octane Rebel offense.
Alabama lost first-round back Najee Harris. They’re replacing him with fifth-year senior Brian Robinson Jr. The Tuscaloosa native was the primary back-up to Harris the last two seasons but now has gotten his time to shine. He’s been impressive but was held out of the contest against Southern Miss with bruised ribs. He recently returned to practice and Coach Saban is hoping he’ll be at 100% for the game.
The Tide has a trio of backs if Robinson Jr. isn’t at full go. Jase McCellan is a true one-cut back who can hit holes quickly with good balance. He has a unique blend of strength and smoothness. He has 163 yards on the year and is the only Bama back to be featured in four games this season.
The second is Roydell Williams who lacks top-end speed but has serious strength. He averages 6.6 yards per carry-on the season and will be one Ole Miss will need to trip up at the line to limit his effectiveness.
The last is Trey Sanders. A former top running back, he has battled injuries but when healthy has flashed great potential
Advantage: Ole Miss
Wide Receivers/Tight End
Ole Miss WRs
Ole Miss has been pleasantly surprised by the receiving corps this year. Despite losing Moore and Yeboah, the Rebels’ offense hasn’t missed a beat and the group has been led thus far by Dontario Drummond. The greatest part of his game so far has been his consistency. He’s got 20 targets in three games and has a touchdown in every game this season, and has a streak of 8 straight games with a receiving touchdown, going back to last season. Drummond has 339 yards this year and is averaging 17.0 yards per catch.
Third on the team in receptions — but equally important as the other receivers in the group — is Braylon Sanders. A true speedster, he excels at stretching the field vertically in this Lane Kiffin offense. His stats may not hop off the page yet in 2021, but he’s caused defenses to draw multiple pass interference calls. When you see Kiffin step into a deep shot downfield to Sanders, odds are something good is about to happen.
The third receiver making waves for the Rebels in 2021 is Jonathan Mingo, who has been making plays all over the field for Ole Miss. A bigger target at 6-2, Mingo uses his body well to make plays and has really taken a step up this season on the outside. He’s second on the team with 15 catches and has amassed three touchdowns. Unfortunately, Mingo suffered an injury to his foot in practice this week and is questionable to play against the Tide.
Two other names to know are the speedsters John Rhys Plumlee and Jahcour Pearson. Operating on the inside, the two haven’t had a breakout performance yet. In their respective pasts, both have shown flashes of playmaking talent. Watch out also for sophomores Jadon Jackson and Dannis Jackson who had strong fall camps.
Alabama lost two first-round receivers from last season’s team, the latest to go pro from the Tide’s receiving room. Stephen M. Smith has us covered here.
“The Crimson Tide is still trying to create consistency at wide receiver with DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle gone. John Metchie is talented, but Jameson Williams (a transfer from Ohio State) is quickly becoming the #1 guy… Metchie has emerged, but want to see him improve on creating separation vs man-to-man coverage. He struggled at times to disengage himself from defensive backs. Methcie doesn’t have the elite speed of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, or Jaylen Waddle, but he’s tough. He can be very explosive at times but needs a little fine-tuning. Slade Bolden is a possession receiver. The tide had young players it is trying to work in.”
Stephen M. Smith on Bama WRs
At the tight end spot, the Tide has former linebacker converted over Cameron Latu. At 6’5 250 lbs, he is a big blocker who also can slip out and has been a big threat in the red zone. They also use a lot of two tight end sets under new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, and we can see Jahleel Billingsley, too.
Advantage: Slight Edge Bama
Ole Miss OL
With four of last year’s five starters returning, the Ole Miss offensive line has drawn a lot of media praise — but surprisingly enough, they’ve drawn a little criticism from Coach Kiffin, himself. Against Austin Peay, PFF graded Ole Miss as one of the top offensive lines in the country. Kiffin, however, saw some missed opportunities that could’ve led to some bigger plays. On the year the Ole Miss line has given up nine sacks for only 27 yards.
Left tackle Nick Broeker is an NFL-caliber player at the tackle spot. Right tackle Jeremy James took home SEC Co-Offensive Lineman of the Week honors for his performance against Tulane. Transfer center Orlando Umana is still getting adjusted to playing at the Rebels’ pace. At guard, Ben Brown is a senior who earned pre-season third-team All-SEC honors. He also was just named a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy. The other guard spot is held down by Caleb Warren who is in his second year starting a majority of the contests.
Overall the group has solid experience and has played well to date. The reverse to that is that this Ole Miss line hasn’t seen an SEC caliber defense yet. Both Louisville and Tulane suffered losses to their front seven creating a weak spot. The line will have to be ready for a whole new challenge against Bama.
The Bama offensive line has struggled out of the gate as it replaces three starters from a year ago. Through four contests, the Tide has allowed 38 quarterback pressures.
PFF has ranked Alabama’s unit 70th in run blocking and 73rd in pass blocking. Ole Miss has to generate pressure, starting with Sam Williams who had a pretty good outing last season against them. Like the rest of Alabama’s team, they have talented pieces; it’s all about making them fit together.
“The offensive line is starting to develop an identity with Evan Neal, Javion Cohen, Darrian Dalcourt, Emil Ekiyor Jr., and Chris Owens. Last week the best performance for the unit against Southern Mississippi. We could see freshman JC Latham get worked in at right tackle versus Ole Miss, but Owens is improving at the position.“
Stephen M. Smith on the Bama O-line
Advantage: Ole Miss, only if they can apply pressure from the defensive side
Ole Miss D-line
For Ole Miss to pull off the upset, the defensive line (and linebackers) need to generate a pass rush. This starts with Sam Williams. The senior has been a staple on the Ole Miss defensive line thanks to his production and freak-level athleticism. In an impressive outing last year against the Tide, he totaled two tackles for loss and a sack.
It can’t just be Williams, alone, though. He may call for doubles, but guys like Tariqious Tisdale, KD Hill, and Isaiah Iton all need to be big this game.
Ole Miss can get help from the linebackers swooping in, but in this game the Rebels need the front to be there. Alabama is going to run a balanced attack and against Southern Miss, they really put more of an emphasis on the run.
The Ole Miss D-line has amassed a total of 7.5 tackles for loss in three games this season. Sam Williams shedding blocks while the interior blocks running lanes should be huge against a Bama team that historically likes to run between the tackles.
The Alabama defensive line is deep as usual. They lost Christian Barmore who was a second-round pick by the Patriots, but they return five linemen who have started five or more games in their collegiate career. The big-name is Phidarian Mathis. He is a fifth-year senior who represented Alabama at SEC Media Days (only two players are selected to attend). DJ Dale is looking to build off an impressive two-year stint as a starter. He won the job as a true freshman on the interior in 2019.
“As far as defensive positions groups, everyone is healthy. Alabama is rotating 7-10 guys on the defensive line, including starters Phidarian Mathis, DJ Dale, and Justin Eboigbe. The Tide also has Byron Young, LaBryan Ray, Jamil Burroughs, Jah-Marien Latham, and Stephon Wynn.”
Stephen M. Smith
Ole Miss LBs
Ole Miss lost Jacquez Jones to the transfer portal, and that was a hit to a rather nice linebackers unit. Maryland transfer Chance Campbell has fared really well after reuniting with co-defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. Campbell has been all over the field for the Rebels this season, doing all the little things to help finish off plays. He’s the team’s leading tackler and has 2.5 tackles for loss while also generating a sack.
Outside of Chance, MoMo Sanogo will get plenty of snaps as an inside back and he strikes me as a potential difference-maker this game with his hands and ability to shed blocks consistently.
On the outside is the duo of Lakia Henry and Mark Robinson. Those two bring plenty of senior experiences to the Ole Miss linebackers wo have a great deal of college experience. Henry has been limited to two games this season.
Behind these players comes one of the better surprises on the defensive side of the football in Ashanti Cistrunk. He is fourth on the team in tackles in a rotational role but tied for second in tackles for loss (2.5/ Campbell). As the Ole Miss defense runs more and more dime packages, the linebacker position becomes of greater importance and the Rebels have the personnel here.
Alabama runs a lot of 3-3-5 except it may only appear that way pre-snap. Will Anderson will creep down to rush, turning it into a 4-2-5. Anderson is a huge body at 6’4″ 235 lbs. and has 5.0 tackles for loss on the season. The sophomore is building off an impressive campaign where he notched 10.5 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks.
“Linebackers are all healthy. Christian Harris and Henry To’oto’o are the inside linebackers, but they need to trust their eye discipline this week. Will Anderson is the leader on defense at outside linebacker, but this is an opportunity for Drew Sanders, Chris Braswell, King Mwikuta, and Dallas Turner to step up.”
Stephen M. Smith
Ole Miss DBs
Ole Miss has played a lot of dime this season. For casual fans, this means they have six defensive backs on the field. One of the biggest names in this unit is Otis Reese who shined when coming in after the NCAA granted his eligibility late last season.
Reese is the main nickel back for the Rebels. Behind him, we can see a lot of Tylan Knight who packs a punch in his small frame. The former running back turned to defensive back is making plays every time he gets on the field. Tysheem Johnson is also making his presence know as the freshman has notched 16 total tackles on the season.
Starting at the regular corner positions are Jaylen Jones and Deane Leonard or Deantre Prince. Jones, a fifth-year senior, is tied for the lead with two pass breakups and eight total tackles. Leonard and Miles Battle are two corners who both log big snaps, but they’ve both only played in two games so far. Battle, like Jones, also has two pass breakups. At safety we have Keidron Smith/Jake Springer and AJ Finley. Smith has been starting for Jake Springer who has been nursing a shoulder injury; however, Springer is listed as the starter for the game vs. Bama.
Overall, while the Rebels like to play a lot of dime defense, they have to take away the run to effectively keep this group on the field. The unit has a lot more talent and experience than last year’s, but we will see how well they adapt to Bama’s balanced attack.
“Alabama’s secondary is healthy. Josh Jobe has good technique but cannot afford to have penalties. The big for the secondary is to make tackles in space. Can’t afford the missed tackles.“
Tied for Bama’s lead in tackles (19) is Demarcco Hellams. The safety battled injuries pre-season but has been all over the field since the season’s start and has logged an interception. Teams haven’t really thrown Jobe’s way a whole lot as he looks to be the next great Bama corner. True freshman Kool-Aid McKinstry will look to log more and more snaps as the season goes on after impressing in the preseason. At safety we have the mentioned Hellams, Malachi Moore, Brian Branch, and Daniel Wright.
True freshman Caden Costa has been a very pleasant surprise at kicker for Ole Miss and all the Rebs expected him to be. Mac Brown is one of the best punters in the nation and just hasn’t seen the field a whole lot due to the Ole Miss offense.
The Rebels have to worry about Jameson Williams who has returned two kicks for touchdowns so far this season. Slade Bolden has been assigned punt returning duties for the Tide. Will Reichard is the placekicker for Alabama and he was a perfect 14/14 in 2020 on field goal attempts. This year he is 6/7 on attempts. The Tide punter is James Burnip and he’s averaging 40.0 yards per punt.
This could actually be one of the more interesting parts of the game to watch. In a game where we expect so much offense, it may end up that the battle for field position or the making of field goals could be the difference.
Advantage: PK/P: Tie – Return Game: Alabama
Buckle up, Rebel fans! Kickoff is at 2:30 pm (CT), and it may come down to the final play.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)