Inside Backers Need to Show Out Against Ole Miss Offense
Surprise, surprise, Lane Kiffin's Ole Miss Rebels will roll into Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday afternoon with the best statistical offense in the country. The Rebels are 5th (among 'Power 5' schools) in passing yards, 2nd in rushing and 1st in points per game.
The concerning aspect for the Alabama Crimson Tide points directly to the rushing attack with Alabama's rushing defense. As Joe Gaither pointed out earlier this week, this situation is Ole Miss's strength against Alabama's weakness. The Crimson Tide have allowed just 116 yards per game this season, but that's skewed by lower-level competition from Mercer, Southern Miss. and, quite frankly, Miami. Alabama faced Florida in Week 3 and was gashed for 246 yards.
The story was the same: Florida hadn't played any Power 5 schools, leading the Tide fanbase to question the Gators' true validity as a rushing offense. Ole Miss has played lesser competition to this point, but its rushing attack is just as real as it was last October. Those Rebels rushed for 268 yards.
While Alabama has arguably the most talented duo of off-ball linebackers in the country, Christian Harris and Henry To'o To'o underperformed against Florida. While To'o To'o was recently described as 'sick' during that contest and has had a rare issue of 'over-communicating,' neither of those ailments should cause poor technique when faced with a potential blocker.
“With To’oTo’o, he’s talented and an instinctive player, but lack of gap discipline, jumping around blocks and not taking on blocks, that’s caused some of the explosive runs,” a personnel figure told Matt Zenitz of On3.
As for Harris, some of his struggles have been in tackling and being on the same page as To'o To'o in coverage. Of the two, he's played better, but there's a lot left on the table for both players.
But taking on guards and tackling the likes of Jerrion Ealy, Snoop Conner and Henry Parrish isn't even the full picture of the threat that is Lane Kiffin's offense.
Anyone paying attention knows that Alabama has struggled with option plays this season, especially against Florida. Lane Kiffin will incorporate this into his offense Saturday, especially since Matt Corral, who has rushed for 158 yards and five touchdowns, is quite dangerous on the ground.
While that's enough of a problem, Kiffin's offense runs the RPO game about as well as any team in the country. RPO's and option runs look exactly the same to an off-ball linebacker. The guards show run, the QB gives an option read with the ball in the belly of the back and from there, well, anything can happen.
It wouldn't be wildly obtuse to effectively call what Kiffin can do this Saturday a triple-option.
Linebackers play the QB option? RPO, throw a slant, first down.
Linebackers drop for the pass? Hand the ball to Ealy, five yards.
Linebackers crash on the running back? Corral pulls and rushes for six yards.
Plainly, To'o To'o and Harris will be forced into the most precarious positions on nearly every play. Committing to the run, committing to the option assignment, hitching into zone drops -- Harris and To'o To'o's decisions, even when the linebackers are right, could be totally wrong. It's the offense's advantage.
While both have played well and been praised by Nick Saban throughout the season, this contest could hinge on both players' performances. Finding advantages, finding windows to make plays will be difficult for both men. But it's vital that they do. Otherwise, Kiffin will nickel and dime Pete Golding's defense directly down the middle.
It can't get much worse for a defensive coordinator than to have to see his defense give up plays over the middle over and over.
As coordinator and linebackers coach, Golding has a direct influence on To'o To'o and Harris in the game plan. And while To'o To'o was in Knoxville in 2020, Harris and Golding certainly remember how last year's game went.
They know a repeat won't be acceptable, to the fanbase or the scoreboard.