OXFORD – If the power of suggestion carries, Alabama coach Nick Saban may opt for a career change in the off-season.
“I think he’d be a really good basketball coach,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. “He really knows how to match things up.”
Saban will still be the football coach for the third-ranked Crimson Tide when Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC) visits No. 20 Ole Miss Saturday. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m., and the game will be televised nationally by CBS.
A loss by the Rebels (3-1, 1-1 SEC) would severely hinder their hopes for a Western Division championship and a berth in the SEC championship game.
“I expect the atmosphere to be one of the best in the country,” Nutt said. “You want your crowd, the homefield advantage … that’s great SEC football.”
The Tide will arrive with a defense rated No. 2 in the SEC and No. 2 in the country, behind Florida in both sets of stats.
Nutt says it’s the variety of blitzes that make Saban squads difficult to figure out.
“You have to be really ready for anything they throw at you,” Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead said. “A few times last year I got caught not knowing what was coming at me, and I made poor decisions. It’s all about preparation this week.”
Nutt is 5-8 for his career against top five opponents, most recently defeating No. 4 Florida with Ole Miss last year and defeating No. 1 LSU with Arkansas two years ago. Both of those games were on the road.
Senior linebacker Lamar Brumfield (ankle) played about 15 snaps against Vanderbilt and should be available this week.
The availability of freshman linebacker D.T. Shackelford (ankle) and senior fullback Andy Hartmann (knee) will depend on how they respond to treatment through the week.
Center Daverin Geralds played through much of the Vanderbilt game with an ankle problem. He is expected to practice and play this week.
McCluster and the run game
Ole Miss rushed for 160 yards against Vanderbilt. Surprisingly few of those came from Dexter McCluster, who gained fame last year as the Wild Rebel.
McCluster gave the Rebels a lift in the fourth quarter at South Carolina, but managed just 13 yards on seven carries against the Commodores.
Nutt said he was close to breaking for big gains on several runs but that McCluster was tripped up or caught from behind.
“We made a conscious effort to get him the ball at tailback and at receiver with reverses and quick handoffs. The thing about Dexter, every team knows where he’s located and tries to keep a handle on him,” Nutt said. “If Daverin (Geralds) and Reid (Neely) had been a little better we’d have had more long runs. We were very very close, especially in the third quarter.”
Ole Miss is sixth in the SEC in rushing at 182.8 yards a game.
Assistance from Mark Jean-Louis
Nutt likes what he’s gotten from offensive lineman Mark Jean-Louis at fullback in the absence of Hartmann, but don’t expect to see any SportsCenter moments for the 330-pounder.
Nutt said there’s no plan to expand Jean-Louis’ role.
“We just can’t throw to him. When he’s in there, everybody pretty much knows it’s a run, but he’s really given us a lift. He’s really helped.”
Sneaking in a play for a big guy seems like the kind of thing Nutt would do, and Jean-Louis has in fact run the ball. He worked some in the backfield during bowl practices last season.
“Yeah, they handed it to me, a little 3-yard run,” Jean-Louis said. “It’s definitely different. It’s a lot more fun, getting that running start on a smaller person. Most of the time they just try to avoid you when you’re my size with a running start.”
Jean-Louis says he didn’t consider himself the “natural” candidate to move to fullback, but he did shed 25 pounds in the summer to give himself a better chance for playing time.
Speaking of linemen: Nutt had high praise for left tackle Bradley Sowell, calling him the “best lineman on the field” at Vanderbilt. Nutt said Sowell graded out over 90 percent and took a “big step”‘ in his development.
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal