Saturday is the beginning of the “A Team” stretch for Ole Miss – three games against West favorites Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn – and the Rebels just might need the A Team, Mr. T and Hannibal, to pick up a win in Tuscaloosa.
Much has been made of the fact that Ole Miss is catching Alabama off a loss. Does it matter? Yes, but not much. They'll be sharper, more focused, but you've got to be those things most of the time anyway to win 19 straight games these days, and that's what Alabama had done before losing at South Carolina last week.
Alabama has indeed been very good, but lost to a South Carolina team that is very similar to Ole Miss defensively in terms of passing yards given up and success against the run.
If Ole Miss can duplicate that success – and be more diverse offensively as South Carolina was – maybe the Rebels can stay in the game and give themselves a chance.
South Carolina had success in the run game with Marcus Lattimore, but look what the Gamecocks did in the passing game. QB Stephen Garcia maintained his composure and made big throws, and WR Alshon Jeffery made great catches.
The Rebels didn't throw the ball much against Fresno and Kentucky but will need to dust off that playbook Saturday.
Jeremiah Masoli played did not throw a pick against Kentucky, the first time this year that's happened. If Masoli doesn't force things and makes good decisions, there may be some matchups that will benefit Ole Miss, most notably 6-foot-7 Melvin Harris against the Tide secondary.
The matchup that most works against Ole Miss will be the Tide's senior quarterback, Greg McElroy, against the Ole Miss secondary.
Tyrone Nix ays his guys are getting better back there. We'll see. That's a unit that hasn't been very good when healthy and right now has three cornerbacks and a safety who have had concussions and another safety, strong starter Johnny Brown, returning from an injured knee and hamstring.
The improvement I saw in the secondary against Kentucky was with how fast and loose some of the defensive backs played, most notably safety Damien Jackson. That led to some forced turnovers, a trend that needs to continue, and improvement in coverage needs to be added to that trend.
McElroy was sacked seven times by the Gamecocks, but he didn't turn the ball over, and he passed for 315 yards and two touchdowns. Look for him to get rid of the ball quicker against Ole Miss.
The Tide has talent at receiver, most notably 6-4 Julio Jones, who had surgery on his hand earlier this week. I suspect he'll play. On Wednesday Saban said swelling had gone down in Jones' hand, plenty of time for it to go down further.
Alabama will pound the ball first, and Ole Miss will have to slow down backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Ingram put up 172 yards on Ole Miss last year.
The Rebels are making a switch at end going with LaMark Armour on the right side to help out against the run. That will be a position to keep an eye on.
The Rebels need to compete, stay in the game and give themselves a chance.
But when the dust settles at Bryant-Denny, Alabama will have more points on its side of the board, a regrettably familiar outcome for Ole Miss.
Prediction: Alabama 36, Ole Miss 27