Three Questions Facing the Tide Against Ole Miss
The Alabama Crimson Tide are 2-0 on the season, after their 52-24 dismantling of the Texas A&M Aggies last Saturday. The Tide now turn their attention to the Ole Miss Rebels, a matchup that’s been highly anticipated since December when the Rebels hired former Alabama offensive coordinator (and notorious coaching personality) Lane Kiffin.
This game will have underlying motivation for both head coaches, as the Kiffin-Saban relationship over the years has been “rocky” to say the least.
Alabama fans will remember how the Tide stunned the Kiffin-led Tennessee Volunteers almost 11 years ago, when defensive tackle Terrence Cody blocked his second field goal of the day to save an undefeated season.
Then in 2014, Kiffin was hired as the OC for the Tide, even winning a championship ring with them in 2015. After reports of competing personalities, a “mutually agreed” departure occurred between Kiffin and Saban, and the former left to become the coach of the FAU Owls only days before the Tide’s loss to Clemson in the 2017 CFP Title game.
Now Kiffin has an opportunity to prove himself as a head coach once again, and there are few better opportunities to do so than in the SEC and against Nick Saban. Saban has his own motivators, especially considering last year’s results and his record against former assistants.
With that, here are 3 questions facing the Tide ahead of their showdown against the Rebels in Oxford.
1. Will the defense hold up against an improved Ole Miss offense? (and some classic Kiffin Trickeration)
While the front seven seems to be improved from where it was last year, the Tide secondary is off to a shaky start. The passing defense has allowed 588 yards and four touchdowns through the air in two games, placing them at 59th out of the 74 FBS teams in competition right now. It doesn’t get any easier this week, as the Rebels passing attack led by breakout quarterback Matt Corral average 381 passing yards a game, good enough for fourth best in the country.
To make matters more interesting, Kiffin is notorious for dialing up trick plays to catch opposing defenses off guard. He did it at Alabama, and most recently he did it at FAU. You can bet for a game as high-profile as Saturday, he won’t hesitate to pull out all the stops to put points on the board. It’s highly likely we will see something tricky; this Alabama secondary needs to be ready for everything.
2. Will Najee Harris get back on track to becoming Alabama’s all time leading rusher?
When this season began, Harris needed exactly 1,215 yards to surpass Alabama great Derrick Henry as the school’s all time leading rusher. Through two games, Harris has 141 yards with the offensive workload primarily belonging to Quarterback Mac Jones. With only eight games remaining in the regular season and no guarantee for postseason play, Harris would need to average 134 yards a game to reach that goal.
It’s a lofty one for sure, however it’s attainable. Harris was bottled up against Texas A&M, but this Ole Miss defense may offer him some more opportunities for chunk yardage. The Rebels run defense currently ranks second to last among all active FBS programs, giving up 308 yards a game on the ground. If Harris gets the carries, he could be well on his way to getting back on track.
3. Will Nick Saban continue to be undefeated against his former assistants?
Saban is now 20-0 all time against his former assistants, most recently defeating Jimbo Fisher with the Tide’s win over A&M. The Tide’s talent is on a different level compared to Ole Miss, a program that is still dealing with the fallout of Hugh Freeze-attributed NCAA sanctions from 2017.
This Ole Miss team already looks improved from last year’s squad, giving No. 4 Florida a challenge in week one 51-35, and defeating the Kentucky Wildcats 42-41 in overtime last week. The Rebels will put up a good fight, however all signs point to Alabama emerging victorious when the dust settles.
The game will be broadcasted Saturday on ESPN at 5:00 p.m. Central Time and can be heard on Tide 100.9 with coverage beginning at 12:00 p.m.