Game of the Week: Alabama vs. Ole Miss

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After a week of thrilling games, epic overtime finishes and an FCS team nearly knocking off a top 10 team — I’m looking at you, Auburn — we enter Week 3 with even more great matchups to look forward to on Saturday.

With a nice slate of games to get up for, I once again had a tough time picking the game of the week between several top-25 match-ups.

Before a poor showing by No. 18 Auburn last week, my plans were to make the meeting between the Tigers and No. 13 LSU game of the week. Now that they’ve slid 12 spots in the Associated Press poll, after edging out an FCS power in Jacksonville State at home, I’ve decided to head over to Tuscaloosa and see what hopes to be an epic rematch between SEC West rivals. No. 15 Ole Miss and No. 2 Alabama.

Last season, Alabama came into Oxford ranked No. 1 in the country looking to take care of business against No. 11 Ole Miss. Little did they know, the Rebels had some business to take care of themselves. Ole Miss upset their conference rival Crimson Tide, 23-17.

The win proved to be so legendary, it was awarded Best Upset at the 2014 ESPY’s.

Now in 2015, the Crimson Tide seek revenge and defend their home turf as the Rebels of Ole Miss come into Bryant-Denny Stadium to prove that last year’s outcome was no fluke.

Ole Miss comes into this divisional conference match-up 2-0, ranked No. 15 in the AP poll with arguably the most explosive offense in the entire country, averaging over 74 points per game, led by former Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly. Some argue that this team has not faced a real challenging opponent, after destroying UT Martin and Fresno State in their first two games.

Rebels’ head coach Hugh Freeze looks to lead his team to back-to-back victories against the Tide, which would mark the first time in the school’s history.

Alabama comes into week three ranked No. 2 in the AP poll for the second week in a row.

After their impressive showing against Wisconsin in the season-opener, the Tide had a bit of a let-down in Week 2 against Middle Tennessee State, struggling to play with any consistency on both sides of the ball.

The Crimson Tide, led by head coach Nick Saban, look to step up their game against the Rebels in their home SEC opener. You better believe they will be ready to play after last year’s outcome. With Saban at the helm, Alabama is 9-1 in SEC revenge games. Their only loss came to LSU when the Tigers beat the Tide 9-6 in 2011’s “game of the century” after losing to them in 2010, 24-21; however, they met a second time in 2011 at the BCS National Championship game where Alabama won handily, 21-0.

Keys to the Game

Alabama Offensive Line vs. Ole Miss Defensive Line

If you’ve read my work before, you know I’m a firm believer in every game being won at the line of scrimmage.

The battle to keep an eye on is the Tide’s O-line against the Rebel D-line.

After last week against Middle Tennessee State, Alabama showed weakness at their right tackle position in Dominick Jackson as he struggled in pass protection. Alabama has been working with different players this week to try and fix their protection issues in preparation for Ole Miss’ active front line. Junior defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche will be one to keep an eye on for the Rebels, but more on him later.

If Alabama struggles to protect their quarterback, it could be a long night for the Tide and a good ride home back to Oxford for the Rebels.

Alabama Special Teams

For Alabama, the field goal kicker has been an ongoing cancer for their team over the last five to six years, losing big games because of the lack of consistency at the position. This year is the same story in junior Adam Griffith. Griffith is a baffling 0-4 on field goals this year. It can’t get much worse this season for the Tide’s kicker.

If Griffith can’t put an end to his kicking struggles, Alabama better hope this one doesn’t come down to a field goal.

Ole Miss Offensive Balance

With Alabama’s defense built to stop the run and pressure the quarterback, Ole Miss needs to come out with a balanced attack and spread the ball around to their offensive playmakers into senior running back Jaylen Walton and sophomore running back Eugene Brazley. Walton and Brazley are averaging 11(Walton) and 10(Brazley) yards per carry.

If the Rebels can keep the Crimson Tide’s defense on their heels and establish a balanced attack, Ole Miss could find lots of success.

Players to Watch

Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss junior defensive tackle

Ole Miss is getting the most out their top recruit from two years ago. Through two games this season, Nkemdiche has accounted for seven tackles with one for a loss. But that’s not all. If you haven’t seen it yet, in the first game of the season against UT Martin, the defensive tackle lined up on offense and took a 31 yard catch to the house for a touchdown. He followed up his week one offensive performance with a one-yard rushing touchdown against Fresno State.

In order to be a real impact for Saturday’s visit to Tuscaloosa, Nkemdiche needs to be a difference-maker on defense before thinking about taking a snap on offense. Although I don’t think Freeze will use him on offense in such a big game like this, don’t be surprised if he gets Nkemdiche the ball to make some kind of impact on both sides of the football.

Jake Coker, Alabama senior quarterback

After a good performance against Wisconsin and a decent job against Middle Tennessee, Coker still hasn’t won the job outright just yet. Through two weeks Coker has continued to split snaps with sophomore Cooper Bateman. With a solid game-winning performance against Ole Miss, I can’t see why the job wouldn’t be given to Coker, but if he struggles to make smart decisions and take care of the football early, don’t be surprised if you see Bateman come in.

Alabama has a strong running game with their Heisman hopeful Derrick Henry and do-it-all running back Kenyan Drake. The difference in this game will Alabama’s ability to throw the football down field. Coker hasn’t been great so far this season throwing the long ball, but with the success the Tide has had just giving the ball to their playmakers so far this season has served them well.

Even though you should expect a heavy dose of Henry and Drake, Coker will have to step up and play a good game to maintain a balanced attack for Alabama. If Coker can’t make the throws down field and match the offensive production Ole Miss has, it could be a bitter ending for the Crimson Tide.

Final Prediction

Right now, Alabama is a touchdown favorite at home against Ole Miss but I think it will be closer than that.

The fact that this is Rebels’ first real quality opponent does not favor them, but even more so because they have to play the no. 2 ranked Crimson Tide in Bryant-Denny Stadium where Ole Miss is 1-25 and losers of 12 straight against Alabama; however, this isn’t the Ole Miss team of old. This is the best team the Rebel fans have seen in years with a high scoring offense that can compete with any team in the nation.

In this year’s rematch, I like Alabama’s defense more than Ole Miss by a very slim margin, but when comparing offenses to opposing defenses, this game is ultimately an even match-up. Both teams have tremendous talent on both sides of the football.

In the end, I think Alabama’s ability to run the football and control the clock will be the difference. The Tide’s defensive front seven, loaded with NFL talent, will play good enough to force Ole Miss to become one-dimensional and control the tempo of the game with the help of the home crowd behind them.

Alabama 28-24

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*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports

Florida DB Vernon Hargreaves III back at practice
Florida DB Vernon Hargreaves III back at practice