No. 1 Alabama and No. 12 Ole Miss are heading toward a monumental showdown in the SEC on CBS Game of the Week on Saturday. The Crimson Tide are fresh off a thorough dismantling of Southern Miss last week, while the Rebels have had two weeks to prepare for the biggest game for the program since the Hugh Freeze era.
It'll be a coaching matchup between the teacher and the student. Alabama's Nick Saban hired Rebels coach Lane Kiffin to run the Crimson Tide offense prior to the 2014 season, and the two won three SEC titles and the 2015 national championship together. Kiffin was the catalyst for the evolution of the Alabama offense from an old-school, smash-mouth unit into the high-flying aerial assault that it has become over the last half-decade.
Let's break down the matchup and make picks straight up and against the spread.
Alabama vs. Ole Miss: Need to know
Can Alabama run the ball?: The Crimson Tide struggled mightily to move the ball on the ground in the 31-29 win over Florida two weeks ago, and currently rank 10th in the SEC with 151.75 yards per game. It'll be critical in this matchup because the best way to prevent this game evolving into a shootout is to keep Rebels quarterback Matt Corral on the sideline for as long as possible. Can Alabama keep up in a shootout? Most likely. After all, that has become its offensive identity over the last seven years. But the path of least resistance in this one is to win the time of possession battle, control the clock and prevent Kiffin from wearing down the Crimson Tide defense with his use of tempo.
This isn't just the Matt Corral show: Ole Miss is the only team in the nation that is in the top 15 in rushing offense and passing offense. Sure, Corral has been awesome through the air. After all, that's why he's the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy coming into this weekend's games. But the running game led by Jerrion Ealy and Henry Parrish Jr. has combined for 364 yards while averaging over 6 yards per carry. When you throw in the 158 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns from Corral, this offense is a run-based unit that thrives off tempo and play-action.
What is the Ole Miss defense, exactly?: The Rebels were atrocious last season when they finished next-to-last in the nation in total defense (519 yards per game) and 115th in yards per play at 6.67. Things have changed this season. Louisville was held to 4.61 yards per play and the Rebels haven't given up 400 or more yards in any of their three games this season -- including against a Tulane team that has a relatively potent offense. This is a different kind of test, though. The best way to limit the Crimson Tide through the air is to generate pressure in a variety of ways, so expect defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin to get very creative in this one.
How to watch Alabama vs. Ole Miss live
Alabama vs. Ole Miss prediction, picks
This 79.5 over/under in this game is the highest in an FBS game in four seasons, which suggests that both teams will have plenty of success moving up and down the field. That will play right into Kiffin's hands. Ole Miss will use tempo, Corral will have a banner day through the air and on the ground, and this game will be in doubt deep into the fourth quarter. In the end, Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young will make a couple of plays late to win an instant classic in Tuscaloosa. Alabama will win but won't cover. Prediction: Ole Miss (+14.5)
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