It’s Ole Miss vs. Alabama week, which for Rebel fans, typically means disappointment. It seems like every year there’s cautious optimism. But by the end of that Saturday night every season, optimism gives way to disappointment after yet another loss.
The two schools have met 70 times since 1894 (if you include vacated wins from both teams), and including the 2014 victory, the longest Rebel winning streak in the series is two games. The overall series record is 58-10-2 in favor of Alabama. Needless to say, it’s been a struggle for Ole Miss to get any type of win against the national power.
In fact, in the 16 years Nick Saban has been at Alabama, apart from a brief three-year stretch where former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze had moderate success (two wins and a close loss), the series has primarily been lopsided. This lopsidedness includes three losses by 45+ points for the Rebels.
Kiffin’s Been Close but Hasn’t Gotten Past His Former Boss
Despite the ugly losses in the series, Lane Kiffin has managed to keep the games against Alabama relatively close in his three seasons at Ole Miss. His first year saw the Rebels fall 63-48, but showed that his offense could have success against the Crimson Tide defense. His second season was a lower scoring affair, in which the Ole Miss offense couldn’t get much going, losing 42-21.
Then, last season, things seemed to change a bit. Although Ole Miss ended up falling 30-24, they had the ball on the last possession with the chance to win the game. An incompletion on fourth down sealed the game. But even being in a position to win the game in the fourth quarter was a step in the right direction.
And while “moral victories” sound cliche, when you’ve only won eleven games against a team in over a century, it’s good to start somewhere.
What to Expect This Year in Ole Miss vs. Alabama
Alabama’s Offense vs. Ole Miss’ Defense
This year’s game could easily look similar to last season’s. For Alabama, the primary question is going to be how the offensive line plays, and whether quarterback Jalen Milroe can show the ability to make consistent plays when he’s relied upon. In the Tide’s opener against Middle Tennessee State, he looked dynamic. The next week, a loss at home to Texas, he struggled for virtually the entire game.
In Alabama’s win over South Florida, Milroe didn’t see the field. Saban gave both backup quarterbacks, Ty Simpson and Tyler Buchner the opportunity to shine. Neither was impressive enough, and Saban announced on Monday that Milroe was starting this week. This implies that Alabama plans on trying to use quarterback draws and read options to get Milroe in space and able to use his legs.
For Ole Miss, this should mean the goal is to keep Milroe in the pocket and avoid letting him scramble. With his accuracy struggling at times, if you can keep him from scrambling, there’s a real chance for success. This is even more true with the offensive line problems they’ve seen this season.
For instance, that’s how Texas got the win in Tuscaloosa. Packing the box and taking away the run. This essentially turns Milroe into a pocket passer, which is where he doesn’t want to be. If Ole Miss can manage this, there’s a chance. Expect to see a guy like freshman linebacker Suntarine Perkins act as a spy on Milroe for much of the game, for that reason. Perkins was the number one ranked player in the state of MS in this year’s recruiting class, and he also played running back in high school, as well. There’s no question he has the athleticism to keep up with Milroe if Ole Miss decides to utilize him in this way.
Ole Miss Offense vs. Crimson Tide Defense
On the flip side, the Crimson Tide defense is still extremely solid. And with Ole Miss already having trouble running the ball, despite Quinshon Judkins returning this season, don’t expect them to suddenly pick up a lot of yards on the ground. This means a lot is going to be put on quarterback Jaxson Dart’s shoulders.
The good news is that it appears the Rebels’ receiver room is healthy. That is except for Zakhari Franklin, who is once again not listed on this week’s depth chart. Tre Harris, who missed last week against Georgia Tech, is back on the depth chart. And based on Kiffin’s commentary from this week, it sounds like he should play.
With Dart having his weapons around him, the question similarly falls to the Rebel offensive line. If they can hold up against a strong Alabama defensive line, there will be chances for Dart and company to move the ball. If they don’t, it’s going to be a long game for Ole Miss.
The Bottom Line
This should be a fun game. Unlike many of the past games in this series, it could also easily end up being a low-scoring affair. Alabama’s offense has struggled a bit over the past two weeks. Add that to the fact that Ole Miss defensive coordinator Pete Golding came from the Crimson Tide last season, and the Rebel defense should have a decent chance to slow down Milroe and company.
But the Alabama defense is also going to be a problem for the Ole Miss offense. Possessions for either side are going to have to be methodical, and not reliant on the big play. For this reason, we get fewer possessions, with fewer opportunities for points.
In the end, Alabama’s talent wins out and sneaks away with the win. It’s close, it’s physical, but the Crimson Tide get a tight win at home.
Alabama 24, Ole Miss 21
Photo courtesy: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports