Reload. That’s the word that regurgitated every year when college football casters bring up Alabama in the preseason. Nick Saban & Co. lost Quinton Dial, Nico Johnson, Robert Lester, Dee Milliner and Jesse Williams to the NFL off of last season’s defense. The year before they lost Mark Barron, Dont’a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie and Courtney Upshaw. This year’s thought was the same: next man up. Unfortunately for the Tide, they have not performed up to traditional standards.
Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson had 228 yards and no interceptions last week and Johnny Manziel chucked it for 464 yards and five touchdowns the week before. The big, bad Bama secondary has been exposed lately and a slew of injuries and inexperience are to blame. Sophomore Bradley Sylve and freshman Eddie Jackson got the starting nods against Colorado State at the corner slots. Senior Deion Belue has been hampered by turf toe but is expected to start on Saturday.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Vinnie Sunseri and Landon Collins have all been great this season, but have been susceptible to the big play. The three are built like run-stoppers rather than cover safeties. That could bode well for one Ole Miss receiver in particular, junior Donte Moncrief.
Moncrief has struggled this season as he has dealt with double-teams. Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram have since made other teams pay by catching them by surprise. That doesn’t happen to Saban. He will likely trust Belue on Moncrief which could lead to a huge game for No.12. To the uninitiated, turf toe seems like a minor injury that is easy to overcome. Not so. It hampers every aspect of your game from running to cutting to jumping. Moncrief has a variety of ways he can beat a corner one-on-one. If he is met at the line, the receiver can get physical and get up and go on the fly route. If he is given space, expect comebacks and screens all game. If the turf toe really bothers Belue, it could pass for bullying at some point on Saturday.
The Alabama pass rush has not lived up to its usual standards. Kirby Smart’s bunch has just three sacks total, two of which came from freshman A’Shawn Robinson. Ole Miss has the best offensive line they’ve had in five years and are deeper now. The Tide cannot allow Bo Wallace to have an hour in the pocket or allow plays to develop.
Including sacks, Alabama has only stopped its opponents in the backfield 13 times for a loss of 34 yards. That is less than three yards per stop and just over four stops per game. If you take out the three sacks for 14 yards, that is just 10 TFL for 20 yards. This game will either expose that to the world or will be a turning point for the defense’s season.
Jeff Scott has been on point for Ole Miss this season, averaging 110 rushing yards per game. Alabama is averaging 4 yards per run. Compare that to 2.4 last year and 2.5 the year before. They are not used to being spread out and if Freeze can get quick blocks from his line and strong blocks from the receivers outside, there can be some big runs. Remember Scott and Randall Mackey each had touchdowns last year in this game.
Wallace will also be able to benefit from a running game. He is averaging 40 ypg and is running the read option better than ever. Saban’s teams traditionally hate spread offenses with versatile quarterbacks. Since 2008 the Crimson Tide are 64-7. The quarterbacks for those seven losses: Tim Tebow, Brian Johnson, Stephen Garcia, Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Jordan Jefferson (twice). There is a common denominator between those seven and here’s a hint: they can all do something in addition to throwing the ball.