Keys to the Game: What No. 15 Ole Miss needs to do to beat No. 13 Alabama
TUSCALOOSA — It’s almost time! Ole Miss and Alabama kick off at 2:30 p.m. CT today in Tuscaloosa. Here are four keys to a Rebel win.
The start of this season for Alabama has been very uncharacteristic, to say the least. To be more specific, the woes have come from positions that are typically dominant for Alabama, namely quarterback and offensive line.
After not playing in last week’s game against South Florida, redshirt sophomore Jalen Milroe is expected to start at quarterback against the Rebels. Milroe is not the typical quarterback Nick Saban is used to trotting out on the field, as the last four starting quarterbacks for Alabama are all currently NFL starters: Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones, and Bryce Young.
On top of the uncertainty at quarterback, the Tide’s offensive line has been suspect through three games. The unit has allowed 40 quarterback pressures this season on 98 dropbacks, meaning opponents are pressuring the Alabama quarterbacks on 41% of dropbacks.
Milroe hasn’t dealt well with defensive pressure. He is completing 36% of his passes in such situations — compared to his 68% completion percentage with a clean pocket.
If Ole Miss can pressure Milroe and contain him from extending plays outside the pocket, that will be a definite positive. Guys like Cedric Johnson, Jared Ivey, Isaac Ukwu, Zxavian Harris and JJ Pegues will play a huge role in today’s game in Tuscaloosa.
Jaxson Dart has orchestrated the Ole Miss passing attack very well this season. He has thrown for 852 yards on the season and also leads Ole Miss in rushing yards with 213.
He also leads the SEC in yards per attempt at 12.5 (No. 2 FBS), yards per completion at 18.9 (No. 2 FBS) and passing efficiency at 202.5 (No. 6 FBS). Dart also leads all SEC quarterbacks in rushing at 71.0 ypg, as well as fourth overall at 6.7 per carry.
Given all that, the run game has to be effective also for Ole Miss to leave Bryant-Denny with a win. Last week against Georgia Tech, the Rebs’ rushing attack was improved as they finished with 299 yards in the game. Quinshon Judkins is due for a breakout game this season, and I have a feeling it could come at Bryant-Denny. For me, Judkins is the x-factor in this game. If he reaches 100 yards, there’s a good chance Ole Miss emerges victorious.
Jalen Milroe has been a downfield killer this season. He has completed seven of his eleven passes of 20+ yards with four touchdowns.
If the Rebels are unable to get pressure on Milroe, he will take some shots. It is important the Ole Miss secondary has good pre-snap communication and not have any blown coverages in order to keep the big plays through the air to a minimum.
Here’s a look at the key players in the Ole Miss secondary:
Rebel safety Daijahn Anthony, a transfer from Liberty, ranks second on the team with three pass breakups and has also notched one of the team’s two interceptions on the year. He saved a touchdown against Georgia Tech last Saturday, breaking up the pass in the end zone.
Safety Trey Washington leads the team with 20 tackles and had a career-high against Georgia Tech.
Safety John Saunders, Jr. , a transfer from Miami (OH) leads the team in pass breakups with four. He notched four tackles and a tackle for loss against Georgia Tech.
Cornerback Deantre Prince is Ole Miss’ active career leader in interceptions (6). Thus far this season, Prince has recorded 9 tackles, a tackle for loss, one interception and two pass breakups.
Cornerback Zamari Walton, a Georgia Tech transfer, has two pass breakups and five tackles this season.
This season the Rebs have scored 158 points — with 51 of them coming in the fourth quarter. That needs to be a trend that continues for Ole Miss on the road as this one is likely to come down to the very end, as did last year’s close loss.
Anticipate a very physical game between Ole Miss and Alabama. It goes without saying that the team that can gut it out and keep the intensity for all 60 minutes will win the game.
Nick Filipich was born and raised in Biloxi, MS. He is an Ole Miss alum with a degree in Sports and Recreation Administration. A sports junkie with a great passion for all things Ole Miss, Nick played baseball and football in high school — which is where he discovered his love for sports. He is an avid Braves and Saints fan, and in his free time enjoys spending time with family, friends and his black lab, Dixie.