October 13, 2006

BOL Breakdown: Mississippi at Alabama

The Alabama Crimson Tide (4-2, 1-2 in SEC) will make its way back into Southeastern Conference play when it takes on the Ole Miss Rebels (2-4, 1-2 in SEC) Saturday (2:34 p.m. CT/CBS) at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

BOL senior writer Travis Reier provides an in-depth look at this week's match-up.

Alabama running game vs. Ole Miss run defense: After struggling through two quarters against Duke, the ground game hit stride in the second half. Kenneth Darby's first 100-yard game of the season made headlines, but it was the blocking of fullback Le'Ron McClain that stood out the most. Will there be a change in the starting lineup at right guard? Given that Marlon Davis played well in place of B.J. Stabler in the second half last Saturday night, it wouldn't come as a surprise.

Edge: The Rebels' front four struggled mightily against the run early in the season, but a couple of true freshmen -- tackle Marcus Tillman and end Greg Hardy -- have helped stem the flow of rushing yards in recent weeks. The Ole Miss linebacking corps rivals Florida's as the best Alabama will have seen to date. Patrick Willis and Garry Pack are proven players and the emergence of Rory Johnson, who was named SEC defensive player of the week after recording 16 tackles and three forced fumbles against Vanderbilt last Saturday, has made this group even better. The Rebels rank 11th in the SEC against the run, but we'll still call this one even.

Key match up: Alabama FB Le'Ron McClain vs. Ole Miss LBs Patrick Willis and Rory Anderson.

Alabama passing game vs. Ole Miss pass defense: After struggling with Duke's pressure in the first half last week, Alabama must do a better job of seeing and picking up the blitz early in the game. With backup quarterback Marc Guillon leaving the team this week, the need to protect John Parker Wilson is at an all-time high. If Wilson were to go down, Jimmy Barnes could probably get Alabama through the remainder of the game. But he's not ready to start at Neyland Stadium.

Edge: The Rebels are expected to have the services of starting strong safety Jamarca Sanford, who sat out last week's win over Vanderbilt with an injury. Ole Miss currently ranks last in the SEC in sacks (tied with Alabama with six) and interceptions (one). In Trumaine McBride, the Rebels have a corner who is capable of playing Keith Brown and DJ Hall. Unfortunately for Ole Miss head coach/defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron, he doesn't have two McBrides to work with. Like most defenses these days, the Rebels aren't afraid to play nickel (3-3-5 and 4-2-5) on running downs. Edge to Alabama.

Key match up: Alabama WRs Keith Brown and DJ Hall vs. Ole Miss CB Nate Banks.

Mike Shula's first offensive play call will be: Flat pass from Wilson to McClain.

Don't be surprised if: Hall and Brown both go for more than 100 receiving yards.

Ole Miss running game vs. Alabama run defense: Nothing unpredictable about what the Rebels will do on Saturday. BenJarvus Green-Ellis left. BenJarvus Green-Ellis middle. BenJarvus Green-Ellis right. Defensive coaches will tell you that the problem with loading up against Green-Ellis, who ran through Vanderbilt middle linebacker Jonathan Goff on a two-yard touchdown run last week, is that you leave yourself open to big plays by quarterback Brent Schaeffer. To that I offer a big, fat so what. If Alabama is unable to slow down Green-Ellis, it won't matter what Schaeffer does with his legs. Of concern for Ole Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner this week is the fullback position. With Jason Cook and H-back Robert Lane both banged up, Quentin Taylor, who was recruited by Alabama before settling on Mississippi, was moved from weakside linebacker to fullback earlier in the week.

Edge: In 12 games last season, Alabama linebackers recorded 29 tackles for loss. Through six games this season, Alabama linebackers have recorded nine TFLs. As a unit, the Tide defense posted 96 TFLs in 2005. The 2006 defense has 27 TFLs at the midway point of the season. Edge to Ole Miss.

Key match up: Alabama MLB Prince Hall and WLB Juwan Simpson vs. Ole Miss TB BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

Ole Miss passing game vs. Alabama pass defense: This Alabama secondary doesn't tackle as well as the one that preceded it, but it has been more productive from a turnover standpoint. Tide defensive backs already have three more interceptions this season than they did in 12 games a year ago (nine in 2006 compared to six in 2005). Alabama's 10 interceptions are just one short of its 2005 season total. The 17 turnovers UA has forced this season are just three behind the total number of takeaways posted by the 2005 defense. When looking at the Tide's low sack total through six games, turnovers for sacks is a trade defensive coordinator Joe Kines is willing to make

Edge: Schaeffer's skills are not a good fit for Werner's pro-style offense -- especially one that leans heavily on freshmen receivers. The JUCO transfer has completed 9-of-23 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown in his last two starts. He's been intercepted three times and sacked four times during that same span. Schaeffer was temporarily benched last week after throwing the first of his two picks against Vanderbilt. Freshman flanker Dexter McCluster was KO'd while returning last Saturday's opening kickoff. He's listed as doubtful for UA. Look for a reverse or two to freshman wide receiver Marshay Green. Ole Miss ranks last in the SEC in third down conversions (26.7 percent). Edge to Alabama.

Key match up: Alabama defensive ends and outside linebackers vs. Ole Miss QB Brent Schaeffer.

Ole Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner's first play call will be: Power to Green-Ellis.

Don't be surprised if: Schaeffer throws fewer than 10 passes for the second week in a row.

Special Teams: Alabama special teams coordinator Dave Ungerer dubbed the play of his kickoff and punt coverage teams against Duke as 50/50. One of the few bright spots for the Tide kicking game last week was as Rashad Johnson's 52-yard kickoff return -- and even that was wiped away by a penalty. Placekicker Jamie Christensen is 3-of-5 on field goals since taking over for Leigh Tiffin. Depending on whom you ask, Christensen's blocked extra point last week was the result of a low kick (according to Ungerer) or a protection breakdown (according to Christensen).

Edge: Alabama punter P.J. Fitzgerald would be wise to wear his big boy pads this week. Ole Miss blocked a punt against Georgia two Saturdays ago before dropping Vanderbilt punter Brett Upson last week. The Rebels were also flagged twice for running into Upson. Slight edge to Alabama.

Game prediction: Showing up shouldn't be a problem for Alabama this week. Containing Green-Ellis, on the other hand, might be. This game will speak to the Tide's ability to hang in against a physical opponent. If the Rebels had any kind of a passing game, calling for the upset wouldn't be much of a stretch. As it is, Schaeffer is on the verge of losing his job to Seth Adams, a JUCO transfer walk-on. Couple that with the gap in turnover margin (Alabama plus-8, Ole Miss minus-3) and the Tide gets it done at home. Alabama 21, Ole Miss 13.

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