Ole Miss football: How the Rebels' rushing attack matches up with Alabama's run 'D'
Alabama isn’t looking so ominous anymore.
The Crimson Tide look shakier than they have in their recent history, with a 7-2 overall record. Their most recent fall came in the form of a 32-31 loss to the LSU Tigers in overtime action on Saturday. The team was likely knocked out of the College Football Playoff and now ranks No. 10 in the nation — something we haven’t seen in a long time.
Still, there’s no doubt this is still one of the toughest teams to beat in college football. Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin knows what he’s going up against, with a squad under Nick Saban that is even more dangerous when it is playing angry and coming off a loss.
“I thought (Saban) was phenomenal” in his postgame assessment of Alabama’s loss, Kiffin told reporters in his most recent press conference.
“You would maybe expect it to be the other way, like he comes in and everything is the end of the world like some coaches do. He does a really good job of addressing exactly what it was. And remember, guys like (Paul) Finebaum’s stupid statement, ‘Dynasty is over.’ They have lost 2 games by 2 plays. Both games could win either way. Alabama makes the field goal at Tennessee and the 2-point gets stopped (against LSU) and they’re the No. 1, No. 2 team in the country coming in here. So we’re talking about 2 plays, 2 teams on the road and 2 of the hardest environments. So this is a great team and the best coach to ever do it.”
Perhaps the most key matchup to watch in this one will be between the Ole Miss rushing offense — ranked No. 1 in the SEC and No. 3 in the nation — and the Alabama rushing defense, which is No. 3 in the SEC and No. 11 in the nation.
The Rebels average 5.6 yards per carry and 267.4 yards per contest. Freshman standout Quinshon Judkins has been the star of the show in a record-breaking season — the No. 11 running back in the country and No. 2 in the SEC with 1,036 rushing yards, plus 13 touchdowns on 180 carries over 9 games. He has garnered some warranted Heisman Trophy hype, most recently after recording 205 rushing yards and 1 touchdown in Ole Miss’ 31-28 win over Texas A&M.
Judkins has crossed the century mark in his past 3 contests (205, 111 and 139).
Alabama will be the toughest test the Rebels have faced on the ground all season. It will serve as a true measuring stick for just how dominant they can continue to be against a high-level run defense.
And Alabama’s rushing offense against Ole Miss’ defense will be another thing to watch, though it’s a bit more lopsided. The Crimson Tide have the No. 23 rushing offense in the nation, with running back Jahmyr Gibbs at the helm. The Ole Miss rushing defense, though, does not nearly compare to that of Alabama’s at No. 78 in the nation.
Alabama averages 5.88 yards per attempt and 202.6 yards per game. Considering some of the struggles the team has had at wide receiver — an issue that usually has not been the case, as Alabama has had multiple standouts drafted at this position over recent years — it’s reasonable to expect Saban’s team to lean into the run game and try to exploit the Rebels’ defensive weaknesses.
The Rebels have allowed an average of 155.8 rushing yards per game and 3.98 yards per attempt, giving up a total of 11 rushing touchdowns. Kiffin has lamented tackling issues throughout the season, and he said the team didn’t “have a run defense within 8 miles of here” after the Auburn game. So this unit will have to be at its best to avoid allowing Alabama to get hot on the ground.
The Mississippi State run defense — while more solid the than Rebels’ has been all year — did prove that could be done just a couple of weeks ago, when it limited Alabama to a mere 29 rushing yards despite a loss. It will be interesting to watch how things play out as the Rebels and the Crimson Tide are set to kick off at 2:30 p.m. CT on Saturday in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.