By Tony Carter
The # 2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0) travel to Oxford this weekend to play the Ole Miss Rebels (2-3, 0-2). Alabama is 44-9-2 (48-8-2 before NCAA mandated forfeits and vacation of wins) in this series and hasn’t lost since 2003 to Ole Miss.
As the season has progressed, Alabama has forced teams to submit to its will through power on offense and defense. Alabama football coach Nick Saban’s teams pride themselves on being physical, finishing plays and doing their jobs. Fans and commentators see that Alabama has a good defensive team and an offensive team that runs, runs, runs and passes only when needed.
Ah, but this isn’t the whole story.
Alabama has run for 1,302 yards and passed for 1,307 this season (that’s an average of 217 and 217.8 yards per game, respectively). Talk about balance and Saban loves to talk about balance—the 2011 Alabama football team has shown it can effectively do both.
Alabama is first in the SEC in rushing yards per game and Ole Miss is 10th in the league giving up 193 yards per contest. Trent Richardson comes into the game with 5 consecutive 100 yard games and just one shy of tieing Shaun Alexander’s record of 6 consecutive 100 yard games. Ole Miss will be without its starting center and guard and will be starting its third quarterback of the year.
Other Ole Miss numbers that should be of interest: Ole Miss has averaged 116.6 yards per game on the ground. The Rebels have gained 793 yards via the air with quarterbacks going 63-126 with 7 interceptions and four touchdowns. Ole Miss has averaged 275 yards of total offense, but has surrendered an average of 408.4. The Rebels are converting 31 percent of third downs, but opponents are converting 44 percent of third downs against the Rebels.
Look for Houston Nutt to throw a lot of new wrinkles into this game with misdirection and other trickery. There’s simply no way this team can line up against Bama and play conventional football. Nutt will need to improvise.
Keys to game: Ole Miss must find ways to convert its third down opportunities and then force “three and outs” on defense. If they fail to do both, expect Alabama to put up gaudy rushing numbers, control the time of possession and have Ole Miss players eagerly waiting to head back to the dorms by midway through the third quarter.
Prediction: Alabama 38 Ole Miss 7