Way back in August the blueprint for Ole Miss success included a rock-solid defense carrying an inexperienced offense.
As the Rebels head to Tuscaloosa this weekend, their best chance for an upset might hinge on how well they run the football.
Ultimately you have to score, but moving the chains keeps the ball away from the Alabama offense and helps an Ole Miss defense that has been vulnerable in the secondary.
And for Ole Miss, moving the chains means running the football. The Rebels must have some success on the ground, and they believe they can.
“You can run on anybody, you just have to execute,” tailback Brandon Bolden said. “Confidence-wise our run game is a lot better than it was at the beginning of the season, especially with the OL going the way it was. We're more stable because of the offensive line, so everybody has a confidence factor that we can run the ball.”
The Rebels ran for just 72 yards on 23 carries in last year's 22-3 home loss to Alabama. The backs didn't figure in at all. Ole Miss' rushing leader was QB Jevan Snead with 44 yards on four attempts.
There were some struggles against Tulane when the Rebels ran for just 92 yards, but they've been pretty good most weeks, especially the last two games when they've combined for 636 yards against Fresno State and Kentucky.
Alabama will be the Rebels' strongest defensive test. The Tide, although victimized by South Carolina's big physical receiver, Alshon Jeffery, leads the SEC in pass defense efficiency with 12 interceptions and only five touchdowns allowed. Alabama is third in run defense, giving up 102.50 yards per game.
“South Carolina kept running the ball. They passed when they had to, but they just kept running it. They kept the ball away from them.”