I do a lot of rambling here on Thursdays, but I’m not going to bury the lead today.
I’ll cut to the chase and tell you I’m picking Alabama to win.
I think it will be close. I think Ole Miss will compete and will have a chance to win.
But when we turn in our picks for the paper we aren’t given space to say we “almost” picked somebody. I almost picked Missouri on the road at South Carolina last week. Just the winners please. Just the facts mam.
Since this is my blog, I usually take advantage of free space to offer a little rationale for picks here from week to week.
I think Ole Miss is better equipped to compete in this game than at any time since 2008 when Alabama won 24-20 in Tuscaloosa. The Rebels had the ball last and made a little progress on what could have been a winning touchdown drive but bogged down before reaching the red zone as I recall. Sometimes my recall is not correct, but I’m thinking Jevan Snead, Dexter McCluster and that bunch were not inside the 20 for those final plays.
I agree that Ole Miss is deeper than it has been at some positions. That depth took a hit this week with the departure of Anthony Alford. Freshman C.J. Moore and sophomore David Kamara – one of them is next up behind Trae Elston – don’t inspire the same confidence right now.
I think Ole Miss is more talented, experienced and mature than it has been.
Cody Prewitt is right in that this Alabama team doesn’t appear to be as strong as some of its recent brethren.
What I keep coming back to is the running game. You simply cannot be one-dimensional and win a game like this. Not just against Alabama. You’ve got to do both things a little bit to beat most teams.
Hugh Freeze’s first two teams have struggled mightily to run the ball against Alabama averaging just 2.3 yards per carry two years ago and 1.8 yards per carry last year,
The past could be forgiven if there was a greater body of work running the football this year. I thought there would be. I thought the Rebels would be farther ahead in the run game than they are right now – even with a transitioning offensive line – because of the depth at running back.
They were better against Memphis with more of the 4- and 5-yard runs that are so important to set a good pace for drives. They had several long runs against ULL, but the consistency overall wasn’t good against the Cajuns or Vanderbilt or Boise before them.
It’s not only about inconsistency for Ole Miss. While Alabama may give up a few plays in the passing game it still defends the run exceptionally well. It’s rushing yards allowed average is 62.0 yards per game, No. 1 in the SEC and more than 20 yards better than No. 2 Mississippi State.
It’s possible that last week’s game against Memphis with 178 yards on 42 carries really will be a launching point to more production. It would be better if the Rebels had just one more game to test that theory before launching into Alabama.
I look for Bo Wallace and his receivers to make some plays in the passing game. I think Wallace will have a cleaner, more efficient game because his ball-protection awareness is back on high alert after a three-turnover performance (2 INTs, 1 fumble) against Memphis.
I like the Rebels’ chances to slow Alabama’s run game. The Ole Miss secondary has been very good this year and will get its biggest challenge from Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. He had eight catches against Ole Miss two years ago, just three last year. Also, the Tide’s 254 rushing yards against Ole Miss last year were more than double the 125 they posted two years ago.
The biggest difficulty in the Cooper matchup will be the fact that Ole Miss defensive backs know they’re turning their backs to a mobile quarterback. If they are enticed into breaking off coverage because they think Blake Sims is about to take off he can pull up and hit Cooper with just a little bit of open space. That’s how big plays are born.
If the Rebels clean up the mistakes they made against Memphis, run the ball enough to keep the Tide honest and keep away from big plays on defense they’ll be in the game in the fourth quarter.
If it works out that way they’ll have a chance to win. Maybe the big home crowd, the electricity of the atmosphere will propel them to make that game-deciding play.
I think they can get there. That in and of itself puts them in better position in this series than they’ve been in quite sometime.
Prediction: Alabama 23, Ole Miss 17