Matthew Speakman, sports editor at The Crimson White, joins DM sports editor Grayson Weir to discuss Saturday’s matchup between Ole Miss and Alabama.
Matthew Speakman: Ole Miss obviously has a gifted and dynamic quarterback in Shea Patterson. How much does having him in this game give Ole Miss a chance?
Grayson Weir: Shea Patterson gives Ole Miss a chance against nuclear warfare. His ability to extend plays is what makes him such a special player. With a big Crimson Tide defensive front rushing the passer Saturday, Patterson is going in pressured and needs to be the best offensive player on the field for the Rebels to stand a chance.
MS: Even though the Rebels lost Laquon Treadwell two years ago, they have replaced him with even more physical receivers, such as A.J. Brown. How much will his size help Ole Miss in the passing game?
GW: Well, A.J. Brown is a game-time decision. After going down holding his knee in the game against Cal, he is expected to play. That being said, whether Brown is a go or not, the Nasty Wide Outs are all of significant stature and the heart of Phil Longo’s offensive unit — sure to be a big factor.
MS: Alabama has yet to commit a turnover this season but has struggled with that against Ole Miss. Are the Rebels focused on making Alabama turn over the ball?
GW: Plain and simple, the only way the Rebels can walk off the field with a win Saturday is if they force the Tide to turn over the ball.
MS: How do you feel the Rebels have adjusted since Matt Luke took over?
GW: I’ve said it week in and week out — the adjustment has gone as smoothly as it possibly could have. Coach Luke has been preparing for this job his whole life. The guys love playing for him, and there is an undeniable sense of family within the locker room.
MS: Do you expect Ole Miss to try to establish a run game against Alabama, or will it mostly try to air it out?
GW: Well, the run game hasn’t gone so well through the first three weeks, and the majority of Longo’s offense is passing plays. While establishing a complimentary run game has been something the coaches have hoped for so far, if it couldn’t get it going against South Alabama, UT Martin and Cal, there’s no way it sparks against the No. 1 team in the nation. The ball will be in the air a lot.
MS: Freddie Roach is a former Alabama player and is now the DL coach at Ole Miss. What kind of an impact has he had on that unit?
GW: Defensive tackle Breeland Speaks said it best at SEC media days. “Coach Roach has brought us a new technique over from Alabama,” he said. “I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s just simple. It allows you to play football how you want to play football.” Roach has come in and brought vigor to a defensive front that has the size and speed, making it pretty dangerous in the trenches.
MS: Finally, give us your score prediction and why you chose that.
GW: I don’t like to make score predictions; I think it’s a bad omen. That being said, we all know the uphill battle the Rebels face walking in to Bryant-Denny Stadium. However, we’ve seen it happen before, and if the Rebels can play their offensive game coupled with a few defensive stops, miracles can happen.
Grayson Weir: Alabama’s offensive line is beginning to gel, which makes a powerful offense even more impenetrable. How good can that big upfront unit be?
Matthew Speakman: I think last week really showed it all. When this line establishes itself and gets push up front, then things like last week can happen. It still needs some work in the pass protection department, but that will get better as the season goes along. This line shows that when it is getting that push and movement, it is among the best offensive lines in the country.
GW: The Rebels are No. 4 in FBS passing offense and No. 6 in FBS team passing efficiency coming in to the weekend. What have Saban and the Crimson Tide defense been doing to prepare for the Air Raid?
MS: I think you’re going to see basically only nickel and dime packages. This secondary has done a good job of locking down defenders so far. That being said, the key to this game is whether Alabama can get a good pass rush and affect Shea Patterson. We have seen that he can make mistakes when under pressure. That is the key to shutting down Ole Miss’ passing game.
GW: After last weekend’s rout of Vanderbilt, all the talk was about Damien Harris, who ran for 151 yards and three touchdowns against the Commodores. Outside of Harris and signal-caller Jalen Hurts, is there a player to keep an eye out for who may emerge as a big factor in this game?
MS: Bo Scarbrough and Calvin Ridley, to me. When those two are clicking, no one can stop them. Scarbrough has slimmed down and still contains the same factor. Scarbrough, combined with Harris in the run game, is a huge factor in this game. They bring different things to the table. Hurts will look to get the ground game established and get Ole Miss to commit to it, then try to find Ridley over the top.
GW: What is the biggest challenge the Rebels bring to Tuscaloosa on Saturday? Are there any question marks?
MS: The biggest challenge Ole Miss presents for Alabama is the Rebels’ ability to spread the ball. Everyone knows that to beat Alabama, you need a dynamic quarterback who can stretch the field. Shea Patterson is that. Alabama has a good secondary, but Ole Miss has very physical receivers who present a massive challenge for Alabama. That really is the biggest question mark for Alabama. It needs to disrupt the passing game to win.
GW: There are a lot of ties between these two programs. How does that affect the mindset in the locker room?
MS: I don’t think that it affects it that much. I think the biggest thing about this game is Alabama knows Ole Miss can beat it. It has done it in the past and can do it again. Alabama is not taking the Rebels lightly at all. On the flip side, Ole Miss knows it can beat Alabama. That confidence is a great thing for Ole Miss to have in this game.
GW: For Alabama to win, what needs to happen? Prediction?
MS: Alabama needs to control the tempo of the game. The Crimson Tide needs to get first downs and establish long drives to keep its defense on the field. If Alabama’s defense is on the field for 75-plus plays or whatever, then it’s going to be in trouble. I think Alabama will force Shea Patterson to make mistakes and will be able to run the ball effectively. Alabama wins, 34-13.