Alabama’s Defense Must Stop the Rebels’ Running Game on Saturday
The No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide hosts the No. 12 Ole Miss Rebels in the battle for SEC West supremacy. The Crimson Tide enter the game a 14-point favorite but in order to secure the victory at home Alabama's defense must focus on stopping the Rebels' running game.
Lane Kiffin's Rebels enter the game averaging 298 yards rushing per game during its first three games of the season. Junior Jerrion Ealy has paced the Rebels with 31 carries for 190 yards and a touchdown however sophomore Henry Parrish Jr. has been right behind him with 25 carries for 174 yards and a touchdown and junior Snoop Conner has 22 carries for 125 yards and three touchdowns.
"There’s some similarities to spread, but they run the ball and they run it effectively. They’re really good at it and then they’re really good at taking advantage of anything you do to stop the run, they’re going to throw RPOs or play-action passes to take advantage of that. They have man beaters when you play man to man," said Alabama head coach Nick Saban on Wednesday.
While the Rebels roll out three backs from the backfield, the maestro in charge of it all is redshirt junior, Heisman Trophy candidate, quarterback Matt Corral. Corral has tucked the ball 33 times for the Rebels for 158 yards and five touchdowns.
"They do have a quarterback run here and that, not a lot but just enough to sort of make you defend it on defense. But the combination of things they do in the running game and the passing game, they're difficult to defend," said Saban on Monday. "And he is about as talented a guy as anybody we've seen, run and pass, for a long time."
The Alabama defense has had ups and downs through the early part of the 2021 season, limiting Miami, Mercer and Southern Miss to 14 points or less but allowing the Florida Gators 29 points in a dreadful effort.
The Crimson Tide currently sit 44th in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game with 115 but stark differences in competition create questions on Alabama's ability to limit an offense. Florida gained 440 yards on the Alabama offense with 245 of those yards coming through the ground game.
The Gators junior quarterback Emory Jones took 19 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown while trying to upset the top ranked Crimson Tide.
In last season's 63-48 Alabama victory in Oxford the Crimson Tide defense allowed the Rebels to gain 268 yards on 57 rushing attempts, good for nearly five yards per attempt in 2020.
Both Conner and Ealy rushed for at least 120 yards and two touchdowns each to give the 2020 Alabama defense major problems. Corral was equally effective taking 13 carries for 40 yards rushing to keep the defense honest.
Alabama must maintain consistency in performance on defense, focusing on playing assignment football to slow down the Rebels offense. Kiffin's side has averaged 635 yards per game against sub-par competition but presents a variety of threats for the Alabama defense.
A focus on eliminating the Ole Miss running game will go a long way to ensure the Crimson Tide emerge Saturday night still undefeated on the 2021 season. Have the Tide learned its lessons from getting gashed by the Gators in "The Swamp"? Will Kiffin be able to exploit the Alabama defense and pull off an upset?
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