Can Ole Miss upset No. 2 Alabama? Stranger things have happened
What does Ole Miss’ path to a victory over No. 2 Alabama look like? Well, extremely narrow for starters and likely nonexistent as these programs are on entirely different wavelengths with Lane Kiffin building from the ground up in Year 1 while Nick Saban eyes a 6th national championship as the Tide’s head coach (and 7th overall).
But, for the sake of the exercise, let’s make a case for an Ole Miss upset. (Crazy things have happened in this series, including the Rebels beating Alabama in back-to-back years in 2014 and 2015 as a touchdown underdog each time. Of course you remember the bad-snap-tipped-pass-touchdown in 2015. That 2015 Alabama team, by the way, went on to win the national championship.)
First, this game will have well exceed its 70-point over-under if the Rebels are to have a chance. On a dry track, that might be doable, but Hurricane Delta is churning in the Gulf and likely will impact each team’s offensive strategy and execution. Kiffin said Thursday morning that kickoff has been adjusted and the game will start at 7:30 pm ET Saturday night, 90 minutes later than scheduled.
The worst of the storm should be gone by then, and that could benefit the Rebels. Matt Corral and the Ole Miss offense have gotten off to a torrid start in 2020. The redshirt sophomore leads the sport in quarterback rating, ranks 2nd in completion percentage and sits 3rd in passing yards per game and yards per attempt. Corral has thrown for 715 yards with 7 touchdowns and an interception that was hardly his fault. He has just 14 incompletions against more than serviceable defenses in Florida and Kentucky.
If Ole Miss were to pull off the stunner Saturday, Corral’s stat line would have mirror what he’s done in the first 2 games combined. If there is a weak point in this Alabama team, it lies on the defensive side of the football and in the secondary to be precise. The Tide have allowed 588 yards through the air against Missouri and Texas A&M. Corral and the Ole Miss offense have averaged a shade under 315 yards through 2 games.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 450 yards and 5 touchdowns for Corral would give the Rebels a chance, a tall order of course and an unrealistic ask even before you factor in the likely sloppy weather conditions, but that is likely what it will require. It will also take another multi-touchdown and 150-plus yard performance from sophomore wide receiver Jonathan Mingo, and similar numbers from tight end Kenny Yeboah for that matter.
Both were tremendous in Ole Miss’ win over Kentucky and it is going to take a lot more than a dominant outing from Elijah Moore for Alabama to be remotely tested.
It cannot be overstated the job Kiffin and Jeff Lebby have done in reimagining this offense. The passing attack has been creative and has catered to Corral’s strengths, and the running game has been sturdy enough when needed. Both facets will have to be clicking at maximum efficiency against the Tide, but the Rebels’ level of offensive success has been nothing short of remarkable through 2 games.
Defensively, Ole Miss had just better hope and pray. The Rebels are last or close to last in most major defensive statistical categories through 2 games. It’s why, when making the far-fetched case for an Ole Miss win, the ask of the offense was so high.
This defense has struggled to stop anyone, and this Alabama team comes in having struggled to run the football through 2 games at just over 3.4 yards per rush. The Rebels’ defense may just be the perfect remedy for the Crimson Tide, particularly considering they are on the heels of allowing over 400 yards on the ground to the Wildcats. Alabama might not punt more than once and the Rebels’ offense had better keep pace.
Alabama’s passing game has not struggled. At all. Mac Jones has just 13 incompletions through 2 games and has thrown for 684 yards with 6 touchdowns and an interception. Ole Miss had the worst pass defense in the SEC in 2019 and has not shown tangible improvement this year. Kiffin knows Jones well from his time at Alabama and his former quarterback is likely in line for a monster performance.
“We were there when we recruited Mac,” Kiffin recalled. “I always thought the cool thing about Mac was everybody said, ‘Why would you go there with Tua?’ And he didn’t care. He was very competitive but really confident in himself. Awesome family. Glad he’s doing well. Who would have thought these two quarterbacks are first and second in the country in quarterback efficiency.”
Again, one twitch in this is the weather. At the very least, the game could be played in heavy rain. Does that ruin a potential track meet and who does it favor? The answer to the former is probably yes and the answer to the latter is likely Alabama. But Ole Miss can hope a few wet football balls slip out of Alabama receivers’ hands or through a running back’s hands after a hard hit. As we’ve seen, it usually takes some form of unexpected intervention to derail the Tide.