By John Davis, Oxford Citizen
Cecil Hurt, the long-time sports editor of the Tuscaloosa News, thinks Saturday’s game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Ole Miss Rebels is unique for different reasons.
Historically, the Crimson Tide are used to playing in really big games, contests that are hyped and involve ESPN’s College GameDay crew, Hurt said.
“Alabama, specifically under Nick Saban, are in a lot of these type of games and used to this atmosphere occurring quite frequently,” Hurt said. “Whoever they’re playing, this is the big game of the year. Number one it’s an SEC Championship game or a BCS National Championship game. Most of the players on this team have been through that. They’ve played in the most hyped SEC West game last year against A&M and then again against LSU. Unless they’re freshmen, they’ve been through this type of buildup to a game.”
Hurt said he saw a good bit of the Rebels’ matchup with Boise State in the opener and a good bit of the game with Vanderbilt. He also saw a reasonable amount of the Memphis game last week.
“They’re very athletic defensively and really upgraded there,” Hurt said. “They have a lot of big-time athletes there. I’ve wondered two things: Are they going to be able to sustain running the ball against Alabama which is built to stop the run? That’s what they’ve recruited to do and it’s tough to sustain a running game against Alabama. The other thing I wonder about is, and taking nothing away from Boise and Vandy or Memphis, I don’t know if they’re high caliber, upper echelon talent on those teams.
“Ole Miss has looked very fast on defense and I’m sure they are and that they are very good athletes, but I’m not sure they were going up against very fast guys at the same time,” Hurt added. “They looked more athletic than the teams they are playing, and they are. They will be a lot closer to Alabama than they have been in some years past, but all you have to do is look at the recruiting rankings and nobody is more athletic than Alabama. Nobody puts more four and five star athletes on the field than Alabama does.”
The Crimson Tide enters Saturday’s matchup 4-0 overall, having defeated West Virginia in the opener and Florida most recently. Hurt agreed that Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss, the two teams Alabama beat in between, don’t have the athletes to even compare. Hurt said West Virginia has a “nice offensive team” and that the Mountaineers were able to score against Oklahoma, another team high in the rankings.
“Even though West Virginia has the two losses, they’ve measured up against two pretty good opponents,” Hurt said. “I think Alabama got tested by an offense that is probably better than the Ole Miss offense against West Virginia. Florida has good athletes, but there is some coaching disarray. I don’t know what it is. I do know that Alabama can’t go out and turn it over four times like they did against Florida and be successful. The fact that they were successful against Florida, despite doing that, tells you something that something isn’t quite right at Florida. I think Ole Miss is a better team than Florida from what I’ve seen. I think if they played, Ole Miss would win.”
Hurt went on to say that while he felt Alabama has been tested in some ways, that Saturday was the first time the Crimson Tide have been in a hostile environment on the road with Blake Sims as the quarterback.
“There is no accurate way to predict how he is going to respond other than to say that so far in four games, he’s played in a neutral setting and played against Florida and he’s played well,” Hurt said.
When it comes to double covering Amari Cooper, who leads the SEC with 43 catches, Hurt said it wasn’t like Alabama couldn’t go to someone else on offense.
“If you back that safety out of the box to help double Amari, they’ll just hand it to (TJ) Yeldon and (Derrick) Henry,” Hurt said. “They have a lot of options. It’s about who wins most of those one-on-one matchups, but it’s also about creating matchups that are favorable to you. I would say the same thing about (Ole Miss’) Laquon Treadwell. If Alabama helps out against him, then Ole Miss has to be able to do some other things.
“Whether that’s running the football or finding some other things in the passing game, they’ve just got to find that. If you could guarantee Hugh Freeze you’re going to get Laquon Treadwell in a one on one matchup every single time, he would feel good about that. Same thing with Nick Saban and Amari Cooper. But it’s also about if they take those matchups away, what can you do to attack them in other ways.”