Alabama football: Is the young secondary ready for huge test against Ole Miss' receivers?
The Ole Miss Rebels host the Alabama Crimson Tide, the reigning national champions and top-ranked team in the country, this Saturday, in a game sure to feature a plethora of fireworks.
The way these two teams are looking, the over/under should probably be set right around 100.
One of the more intriguing storylines will be the Alabama secondary, which is still young and growing, against the vaunted Ole Miss passing attack, featuring an extraordinarily talented and uncommonly large receiving corps.
Going into the season, Alabama’s biggest concern was its secondary, which was replacing their top 6 defensive backs. Replacing them were Saivion Smith, Trevon Diggs, Deionte Thompson, Xavier McKinney and Shyheim Carter – guys with more talent than game experience.
How quickly could the Tide’s secondary come together? That was the big question. The defensive backfield is a lot like the offensive line in that there is an untold quality of playing with the same guys over and over. You start to know where your teammate is without actually knowing he’s there. Communication becomes almost unspoken. Everyone is on the same page working in unison.
So far, Alabama’s secondary has looked pretty good, giving up 235 passing yards per game and allowing opposing QBs just a 45 percent completion rate.
The lack of experience is certainly evident, but they’ve improved over the past 8 quarters. Deionte Thompson has begun to look like a star in the making. Smith and Carter have flashed elite playmaking potential. Both already have a pick-six in the first two games. Diggs has quietly been solid.
Granted, the passing attacks they’ve faced are far from elite, but the secondary has been especially strong against the deep ball, not giving opponents a chance to pick up big yards downfield.
Saturday, however, will provide an excellent litmus test.
Rebels QB Jordan Ta’amu leads the SEC with 784 passing yards is is second with 7 TD passes. He’s completing just under 70 percent of his passes, averaging a wild 12.1 yards per attempt. He’s looked cool, calm and collected, showing good velocity and accuracy, particularly on his deep balls. His ball placement on deep passes has been very similar to Tua Tagovailoa’s — just excellent.
Ta’amu has done a good job of dispersing the ball to a very deep and very talented receiving corps, a unit as big, fast and physical as anyone.
A.J. Brown (6-1, 230), the consensus top-ranked receiving prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft class, has lived up to the billing so far, catching 15 passes for 251 yards with 3 TDs. D.K. Metcalf (6-4, 240), who could sneak into first-round consideration next spring, has caught 11 passes for 174-yards and 2 TDs. DaMarkus Lodge (6-2, 205) missed the second game due to concussion protocol, but was electric in the first game, catching 6 passes for 96 yards. Even some of the younger guys have begun to assert themselves; Braylon Sanders, who has caught 8 passes for 193 yards and a TD, is averaging a whopping 24.1 yards per reception.
This receiving corps has the size and physicality to get separation and win one-on-one battles but also the speed to race past safeties. And while Brown obviously is the headliner, it’s not just one guy doing it all. Ole Miss has multiple weapons, so defenses can’t just zero in on him with double coverage or safety help over the top without creating opportunities for others.
Now, before Tide fans jump on me, we must remember that Ole Miss hasn’t faced a defense that resembles Alabama. The Rebels have averaged 61 points per game by going against Texas Tech (not exactly known for its defense) and Southern Illinois (an FCS school).
So, while the Alabama secondary will be facing their first stiff test, the Ole Miss receivers will also be going against their strongest competition yet, as well.
It’s difficult to take too much from last year’s blowout, because Alabama’s secondary is completely overhauled, but Brown (1 catch), Metcalf (3 catches) and Lodge (2 catches) were limited to just 124 combined yards and kept out of the end zone.
This will undoubtedly be a fun matchup to watch. If we’re being honest, it’ll probably be one of the very few fun matchups to watch in a game that could get ugly. How in the world will the Ole Miss defense, which just gave up 629 yards and 41 points at home to an FCS team, stop the juggernaut that is the Tua Tagovailoa-led offense? Wesley McGriff could have 6 months to plan for this game and I still wouldn’t have any faith they could stop the Tide.
One way or another, it’s going to be a great test for the young Alabama secondary. They’ll probably take some lumps here and there, but it’ll make them better in the long run.