KEYS FOR VICTORY
1. Capitalize in the red zone
The Rebels were 2-for-2 in red zone chances in Tuscaloosa last year and finished both drives with touchdowns. Jeff Scott scored on a 1-yard run, and Randall Mackey scored on a 12-yard run.
The Rebels need to again finish drives strong, but they need more than two opportunities down close.
Ole Miss leads the SEC in red zone offense with 13 scores – 11 touchdowns – in 14 chances.
2. Protect the football
The Ole Miss starters have done a good job of this, and the Rebels overall are plus-1 in turnover margin this season.
The Rebels need to hold on to the football and move the chains to keep Alabama’s offense on the sideline and keep from giving the Tide easy chances with short fields.
Ole Miss turned it over three times in last year’s game, two interceptions by Bo Wallace and one by Mackey, leading to 13 points.
3. Slow down McCarron
A.J. McCarron is the most efficient quarterback the Rebels have faced this season. Mistakes in the secondary will not go unpunished.
The Rebels need to continue the trend of improved cornerback play that began at Texas.
Sophomore Mike Hilton, who just moved to corner after the Vanderbilt game, is gaining confidence, and senior Charles Sawyer re-enters the mix this week after being held out against Southeast Missouri and suspended for Texas.
McCarron was 22-for-30 with a couple of touchdown passes against Ole Miss last year. He’s considered a very good game manager, and much was made of him talking the Alabama coaching staff into a play-action pass play call near the goalline at Texas A&M that resulted in a touchdown.
WHAT TO WATCH
When Alabama has the ball
Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, now in his third season as a starter, has been given the label of “game manager,” which means a guy who protects the football and lets those around him make plays.
He can do much more than just manage, however.
McCarron is averaging 234 passing yards a game with six TDs and two interceptions.
McCarron’s efficiency and his multiple options at receiver have Alabama leaning to the pass more than in recent seasons.
That doesn’t mean the Crimson Tide can’t run the football. Sophomore T.J. Yeldon runs with a punishing style similar to Trent Richardson and is among the SEC leaders at 91 yards a game.
Yeldon did not start against Colorado State due to a disciplinary action and played sparingly.
When Ole Miss has the ball
Alabama is giving up 122.7 rushing yards a game. Not bad, but not Crimson Tide like as it stands just sixth in the SEC.
Still, this will be the best run defense the Rebels have faced in three games.
Ole Miss, the league’s No. 2 rushing offense this week, will try to move the ball on the ground with Scott and Wallace in the read option.
If the Rebels are successful it will open up the passing game for Wallace – who has yet to throw an interception this season – to involve a number of playmakers at wide receiver that should increase with the anticipated return of Vince Sanders.
Alabama has had some injuries in the secondary but expects to have its best cornerback, Deion Belue, who did not play against Colorado State.
Due mostly to Texas A&M’s success, Alabama is 11th in the SEC in pass defense, giving up 250.3 yards a game.
Alabama OL vs. Ole Miss front seven
Three draft picks are gone from last year’s Crimson Tide OL, and the group drew criticism for its performance against Virginia Tech.
It’s played better in the games that followed, but Ole Miss stands to be the group’s biggest test since Tech.
The Rebels are third in the league in rushing defense, giving up 114.3 yards a game, continuing a trend of improvement that began last season.
Pass rush, though, has been sketchy for Ole Miss. It was better against Texas, and there were different factors – such as game plan against Vanderbilt – that contributed to weak results in the first two games.
The Rebels will need to win the line of scrimmage and disrupt McCarron to keep him from picking them apart.