Ole Miss faces what will likely be its toughest test of the 2018 season against top-ranked Alabama and it began its on-field preparation for the Crimson Tide at Tuesday’s practice. Here are some news and notes as the Rebels prepare to face the best team in college football.
Ben Brown held out of practice:
Right guard Ben Brown did not practice and is going through concussion protocol. Offensive line coach Jack Bicknell said the team is being cautious but feels confident Brown will be ready to play on Saturday. Brown is one of the younger players on a veteran offensive line group and was really the only surprise when the week one depth chart was released and saw him get the starting nod over Jordan Sims.
How will the offensive line hold up?
Alabama boasts the stingiest front seven in college football and is anchored by a fierce defensive line littered with five-star talent. It is incredibly difficult to run the football against this unit with consistent success and just as hard to keep them away from the opposing quarterback. If there is a clear strength of this Ole Miss team outside of its athleticism on the perimeter, it is a veteran offensive line that has played a lot of football together over the last couple seasons.
“We have all been in those big time games,” Javon Patterson said. “We have seen the blitzes and the schemes. It is kind of automatic for us when we go into the film room, having guys confident in what we do. Being an older and experienced group, we want to put things on our shoulders.”
Bicknell has coached in the NFL for nearly a decade and seen some all sorts of schemes, blitzes and athletes. He is confident in the veteran group he has but also knows how challenging facing this Tide defensive front will be.
“It is a combination of things,” Bicknell said. “There is no question they have unbelievable talent. It is also coaching. Coaching is not always just about schemes and fancy things. These guys are just so well-coached. They don’t do a whole lot. They do enough, but not a lot. They just know exactly where they are going with their eyes. That is what makes it really difficult because they know exactly what they are doing.”
Speed is something their defensive front possesses in abundance and is what makes blocking them so difficult.
“There’s a big difference in blocking someone off the edge that runs 4.6 rather than a 4.8 or 4.9,” Bicknell said.
A number of teams have had success moving the football between the 20’s on Alabama, but when the field shrinks in the red zone is when that stinginess shows.
“They are really tough down there,” Bicknell said. “Everything is tighter. The space is gone. That is where it really gets real for an offense. The holes are tighter and there is less room to run.”
The Ole Miss offensive line has played well this year, which was to be expected considering what it returned. Bicknell credits some of that to offensive coordinator Phil Longo making things simple in terms of scheme. Bicknell went as far as to say working in Longo’s offense is the easiest time he has had coaching the offensive line because of the space and simplicity of the offense.
“It’s the best offense I have ever been around,” Bicknell said. “We open things up and we have space. We are tight in two and three tight end sets and bringing in bigger guys to make it a big scrum in the middle.”
Tua changes the Tide:
Crimson Tide signal caller Tua Tagovailoa is the most dynamic quarterback Nick Saban has had since he arrived at Alabama. Saban’s offense has primarily been controlled by a quarterback that eliminates risk, safely manages the game and relies heavily on what is usually among the best ground games in college football. Tagovailoa is different. He can run, has a strong arm and can take the top off a defense. Tagovailoa is more prone to taking risks than most quarterbacks in the Saban era. So far, those risks have paid dividends more often than not.
“The guy can throw and run and make plays,” defensive lineman Josiah Coatney said. “We just have to stay honest and execute the plays. We have to be disciplined. Those are the things we have to do to beat Alabama.”
The Ole Miss defense is reeling after a week in which it gave up 41 points and 629 yards of offense to Southern Illinois, an alarming sign given the challenge ahead of it this week. Coatney said confidence has not been affected and they know they can play better than what was on display last weekend.
“New week, new opponent,” Coatney said. “We need to do everything possible to stop the run, stop the pass and get a win.”