15 October 2008
The second ranked Crimson Tide is back to work this week against the 3-3 Ole Miss Rebels. Ordinarily, the Reb’s wouldn’t strike much fear into their opponents without a Manning on the roster (and Cooper doesn’t count).
This year’s edition, led by Houston Nutt, should. Ole Miss is a typical Houston Nutt team. They head down to Gainesville and bring back a win against then fourth ranked Florida then turn around the next week lay an egg against South Carolina at home.
Ole Miss has given Nutt something he wasn’t accustomed to while at Arkansas, a passing game. After six games (3-3), the Rebels’ showcase a balanced offense in the first year of Nutt’s tenure in Oxford. Quarterback Jevan Snead has amassed over 1300 yards passing after sitting out a year due to his transfer from Texas.
Snead is the fourth ranked passer in the SEC in terms of quarterback rating and passing yards. The sophomore will throw the ball to the other team, however, as evidenced by his nine interceptions. Snead also has nine touchdown passes this season.
To help balance their offensive attack, the Rebels have rushed for over 1000 yards as a team thus far this season. Brandon Bolden, a freshman, leads a three headed attack with over 300 yards rushing. Juniors Cordera Eason and wide receiver Dexter McCluster have combined for nearly 600 yards combined.
McCluster also plays the role of Darren McFadden as a part time quarterback in the “Wild Hog” formation. McCluster isn’t much of a passing threat, though, only attempting three passes thus far this season with one of those resulting in a pick.
Snead’s favorite target in the passing game is also McCLuster, who has over 400 yards receiving and one touchdown. The leading touchdown threat for the Rebel receiving corp is junior Shay Hodge with four.
Nutt’s history has always been as an offensive coach who needs to usually outscore opponents to win. His Ole Miss team this year is no different.
You don’t make it easy on yourself when your two leading tacklers are your safeties. Senior Jamarca Sanford leads the Rebel defense with 56 total tackles flowed by junior Kendrick Lewis with 45.
There has been a lot of speculation about whether junior defensive end Greg Hardy will start or even play this week but with only six total tackles and two sacks, I am not sure it even matters. Hardy is leading the Rebel’s in sacks but the team has only 13 as a team for the season.
This is the game of the year for the Rebels, no question. Nutt always gets his teams up for big games and this game against the second ranked Tide is definitely big. Alabama must avoid the upset bug that is making its’ rounds through the top five this season while Ole Miss will be trying to knock off another top five team and solidify a shot at a bowl game.
Look for Nutt to throw the whole playbook at Bama’s vaunted defense on Saturday. The Rebels will be dangerous with a nothing to lose attitude. Ordinarily if you can withstand that initial onslaught, teams will mail it in for the rest of the game.
That doesn’t seem likely for Nutt’s squad as evidenced by the never say die attitude they displayed in Gainesville.
Alabama will again try to establish the power run game with Coffee and Ingram but look for Wilson to try and hit some big plays in the passing game. If the Rebels key on Julio Jones, I would imagine someone like Marquis Maze may have a break out performance on Saturday.
As always, tight end Nick Walker could be a factor if he can become involved in the passing game Saturday. Walker getting some catches early will open things up for Jones and the rest of the receiving corp.
Defensively, Saban will employ a lot of nickel package to offset the “Wild Hog” formation employed by Ole Miss. Alabama has had a lot of success stopping the run out of the nickel, so I wouldn’t expect to see much of Cory Reamer on Saturday.