The other big-time game between ranked opponents this weekend is Ole Miss-Alabama. It may not be as sexy as LSU-Georgia, but this will turn into one of the most underrated matchups in the SEC for 2013.
The Tide opened as 16.5-point favorites over Ole Miss, and that’s a big number based on how the Tide’s offense sputtered in two of three games this season.
Here’s what to watch for Saturday:
The running game: Ole Miss’ rushing attack is much better than Alabama’s through four weeks. In fact, the Rebels are averaging 250 yards per game, while the Tide sit dead last in the SEC, averaging just 132 yards per game. The Tide’s offensive struggles come back to the offensive line and their struggle to run block early in the season. The Rebels have rushed on average 12 more times per game than Alabama, and the Rebels have run nearly 80 plays per game, compared to Alabama’s 58.6.
Bo Wallace: Beating Alabama all comes back to the quarterback play, and it has to be dynamic. Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow come to mind, but the one who doesn’t who also accomplished this feat was Stephen Garcia. Garcia had the ‘game of his life’, as Steve Spurrier so eloquently puts it, in a win. Wallace has taken his game to the next level and is playing much better than 2012. He’s thrown four TDs, compared to zero INTs, after throwing 22 TDs and 17 INTs last season. The evolution of Bo Wallace continues. He’s making faster reads; he’s learning not to force the ball in tight windows. But it’s going to take Wallace’s best game to beat Alabama, and the vertical passing game will have to be great, not good.
Related: Why Bo Wallace has improved
Interesting matchups: The biggest area the Rebels have an advantage is the receivers against the Tide’s secondary. Alabama’s best corner, Deion Belue, is suffering from turf toe, and Cyrus Jones, Eddie Jackson, Bradley Sylve, John Fulton and Geno Smith, among others, haven’t exactly been world-beaters. Safety HaHa Clinton-Dix is a star in the making, and Vinnie Sunseri is playing very well, but losing Robert Lester and Dee Milliner has been obvious. Rebels receivers Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell are just as talented as Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, but will they produce? The Rebels will try to exploit the secondary much like Aggies did.
Special teams play: Alabama’s offense may not be firing on all cylinders, but in two games where the offense has struggled, special teams have picked it up. Returner Christion Jones returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns against Virginia Tech, while the Tide blocked a punt for a touchdown last week. And not to be outdone, Ole Miss returner Jeff Scott housed a 73-yard punt return against Texas. Special teams will be critical, as will field position, and any help either team gets from special teams will be a huge asset Saturday.
Turnovers: Turnovers are crucial for beating Nick Saban and Alabama. Alabama failed to win the turnover battle in their seven losses over the last five years. The Tide and Rebels are both +1 heading into Saturday’s contest.