We got our popcorn ready ... to watch Alabama's defense have a throwback performance for the ages
Lane Kiffin looked into the CBS cameras and delivered a promise of sorts.
“Get your popcorn ready,” Kiffin said, as he promptly removed his headset, tossed it and ran off before answering another pregame interview question from Jamie Erdahl.
Well, Kiffin was right. Popcorn was necessary on Saturday afternoon.
The only problem? It wasn’t his high-octane offense who was worth watching; it was the Alabama defense.
Against the high-octane Ole Miss offense, Saban went old school to improve to 24-0 against his former assistants.
Matt Corral didn’t go all 2019 Joe Burrow, or 2012 Johnny Manziel or 2010 Cam Newton. There wasn’t a Heisman moment in Tuscaloosa. At least not for the visiting quarterback.
Instead, Saban’s defense instead went all 2017 Alabama, 2012 Alabama and 2011 Alabama. It was a throwback performance. It was the type of defensive effort that reminded us why the Florida games — wherein Alabama had its biggest rushing yardage disparity in 14 years — are so rare.
Popcorn was a fitting snack to watch a defense who looked, dare I say, salty?
And yeah, it’s worth noting that the 2021 sample size for Ole Miss was limited. Just 1 Power 5 foe so far (Louisville) and 0 true road games didn’t exactly make Ole Miss the most battle-tested team in the country. Still, besides just having a Heisman front-runner, Ole Miss had the No. 2 non-service academy rushing attack in America at just less than 300 yards per contest.
On Saturday? It looked like C.J. Mosley and Dont’a Hightower were out there. Nope. That was Will Anderson and Christian Harris. Henry To’o To’o also looked like someone who lived up to the lofty billing he got after transferring from Tennessee.
ANOTHER FOURTH DOWN STOP 🔥
HENRY TO’O TO’O ‼️
— 247Sports (@247Sports) October 2, 2021
To’o To’o was sort of the player who embodied those run game struggles against Florida. Against Ole Miss, Alabama allowed just 78 rushing yards on 34 carries.
Yep, that’ll work.
Was it boring? Perhaps. You can argue if you want that defense like that isn’t worthy of popcorn. Perhaps watching Phidarian Mathis forcing a Matt Corral fumble isn’t going to go viral, and maybe To’o To’o sniffing out a fourth-down play won’t necessarily make anyone really think twice about Alabama’s 2021 identity.
By the way, Kiffin tried to deliver a show by going for it on 4th down after 4th down. He picked up the first 2, but on that third one, Alabama stuffed it in the backfield. Was stopping Ole Miss after a mostly successful first drive the difference in the game? There’s a case to be made. Had Ole Miss converted, maybe Jordan Battle — he was also everywhere all afternoon — and the Alabama defense goes through the 2020 Ole Miss flashbacks.
Yeah, about that.
Saturday wasn’t anywhere close to that on both sides of the ball. That 2020 game set the SEC yardage record, and it was filled with popcorn-worthy chunk plays. Go figure that this year, both teams combined for just 1 play of 30-plus yards, and it came from Ole Miss. Against Florida 2 weeks ago, Alabama was held without a play of 30-plus yards for the first time since 2018 against Mississippi State. It kept Alabama’s offense in check in Gainesville. It didn’t matter on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
Continuing Saturday’s theme of “Alabama throwback,” Brian Robinson did his best Eddie Lacy/Mark Ingram imitation. Runs between the tackles? Dragging 4 defenders across the yard-to-gain? Long, methodical drives?
Yep. They happened.
Robinson’s career day (36 carries, 171 yards and 4 touchdowns) helped keep the Alabama defense well rested. The Tide held the ball for 37 minutes and 59 seconds, which was necessary against a team like Ole Miss. It wouldn’t have taken much to get Kiffin’s offense rolling. Say what you want about the level of competition pre-Alabama; Ole Miss still entered Saturday averaging 53 points per game.
Let’s also not forget that besides the obvious storyline about Kiffin vs. Saban, the former had 2 weeks to prepare for the latter. If Kiffin and Jeff Lebby were going to empty the bag for a game, one would’ve thought it was Saturday. Hence, the popcorn.
Instead of Saturday being the culmination of Kiffin’s rise at Ole Miss, Saban turned back time. We got a reminder that there’s a large gap between the elite and the very good. Alabama is indeed elite. Vulnerable? Nobody is saying that about the Tide. At least right now. Adjustments were made by Saban, as many expected.
Saturday’s showing didn’t guarantee Alabama a spot in Atlanta, nor does it mean it’ll be nothing but smooth sailing in the SEC West. Another challenge awaits in College Station next week, though the Aggies certainly don’t have the same sort of offensive firepower that Ole Miss has.
Above all else, dominating Kiffin’s team like that showed Alabama’s defensive potential. That wasn’t Miami (FL). That win for the Tide aged faster than an avocado. Saturday’s won’t. Like Saban did, Kiffin will adjust. Better days are ahead for the visiting team.
Alabama, however, went throwback. It wasn’t 2014 or 2015 all over again with Ole Miss.
It was 2021.
It’s early, but Saturday was a reminder of something that should never be forgotten when the Tide rolls in.
Having popcorn at Alabama’s expense is still easier said than done.