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Alabama Football: Defense Plans To Be More Prepared for Ole Miss This Time

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Ole Miss was unranked and 1-1 on the season with first-year coach Lane Kiffin when No. 2 Alabama went to Oxford, Mississippi last October 10.

And 54 seconds later, the Rebels led 7-0, after a 75-yard drive in four plays as sophomore quarterback Matt Corral completed 3 of 3 passes for 69 yards. Ole Miss went up 14-7 on a 93-yard drive in 10 plays early in the second quarter, as Corral hit 2 of 2 for 35 yards with a 22-yard run by tailback Jerrion Ealy. Then Ole Miss went 75 yards in 11 plays – all runs – to take a 21-14 lead late in the second quarter. Tailback Snoop Conner gained 43 yards on five carries on the drive with Ealy adding 17 on four rushes.

Alabama recovered and won 63-48, but few before and only Florida since have shredded the Tide’s defense with such precision in so many varied ways. Corral completed 21 of 28 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 40 yards on 13 carries.

Conner finished with 131 yards on 21 carries with two touchdowns, and Ealy gained 120 on 19 rushes with two touchdowns as Ole Miss became the first team to have two 100-yard rushers during coach Nick Saban’s time at Alabama, which began in 2007. Ole Miss’ 647 total net yards was the most ever allowed by the Tide.

Ole Miss is averaging 623 a game this season, good for No. 1 in the nation, and it is No. 1 in points per game at 52.7.

The No. 12 Rebels (3-0) have not played a ranked team yet, but that will happen Saturday at No. 1 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) at 2:30 p.m. on CBS.

Corral, a Heisman Trophy favorite, Ealy and Conner are all back for the Rebels, and the defense looks better so far.

“We have to prepare like we’re playing a great team, which we are playing a great team,” Alabama junior safety Jordan Battle said. “Lane Kiffin is a great offensive coordinator, so we know he’s going to have some great plays for us. It’s SEC football, so it don’t get any better. And we are always excited for moments like this.”

The pace of Kiffin’s offense and the speed with which it snapped the ball kept Alabama off balance throughout the game.

“Lining up and getting the call real quick and echoing it to the defense and getting on the same page early before the play,” Battle said would be key. “That leads to less mistakes in the game.”

Corral is second in the SEC in passing yards a game with 332.33. Alabama is fifth in the league against the pass with 168.3 yards given up a game.

Ole Miss continues to run well, too. It is second in the SEC in rushing yards a game at 298.67, while the Tide is a pedestrian eighth against the run with 115 yards allowed a game.

“They do a lot of fast ball, so we’ve got to prepare well for that,” said senior defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis, who leads his team in sacks with 2.5. “We’ve been watching a lot of film, finding out the little things they do wrong.”

And there is not a lot of that.

“Because of the combination of things they do in the running game and the passing game, they’re difficult to defend,” Saban said. “And Matt Corral is about as talented a guy as anybody we’ve seen – run and pass – in a long time.”

Mathis said Alabama’s defense learned from its awakening at Ole Miss. The Tide allowed more than 20 points just three more times the rest of the regular season and then won the national championship. And no one played Alabama closer than the 15 it beat Ole Miss by.

“It was a good experience for us,” he said. “It was a wake-up calling for us, but that’s last year. This is a new season. We’re going to come out with that Bama mentality and be ready to roll. I know I don’t have that much time here left, so I’m trying to make as many memories as I can.”

Alabama is a 15.5-point favorite by FanDuel.

“Any time you play Alabama, you’re going to have to do everything – your best game coaching, your best game playing and get a break here or there just to have a chance,” Kiffin said. “Because obviously as we see in every draft, they have better players than everybody else in the country.”

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau has been on the LSU beat since 1998 with multiple outlets in Louisiana, prior to that he had covered both Auburn and Alabama. He won first place for his game feature on LSU's upset at Florida last season from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He was also named Beat Writer of Year, by Louisiana Sports Writers Association in July; placed in three Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) categories – Beat Writer, Explanatory, Game Coverage – last spring. Guilbeau was also the FWAA first-place winner for columns in 2017 and was also the top overall winner in 2016 FWAA placing first for his game story, second in columns, and receiving honorable mention for features.

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