At least Falcons fans had hope when they led the Patriots 28-3 late in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI. At least Warriors fans got to experience NBA Finals wins before they blew their 3-1 series lead over the Cavaliers in 2016. At least Ole Miss fans got to experience a sick catch by Braylon Sanders when they got beat by Alabama 42-21 on October 2nd? Yeah, that’s not the same. What happened Saturday in Tuscaloosa was one of the most disappointing and embarrassing performances I can remember. The 12th ranked Rebels marched into Bryant-Denny Stadium with their minds on an upset that would launch the program into prime playoff position. Instead, Alabama flexed their No. 1 muscles and made Ole Miss look like a posing team whose 3-0 record was more because of their lackluster opponents than their actual talent. If nothing else, Saturday’s game can serve as an educational opportunity for the college football world, giving us a few key takeaways.
Ole Miss needs more variety on defense
Through the first three games, Ole Miss had shown pretty much two packages on defense. Their base look, which is a 3-2-6 dime package and a short yardage set which substitutes in a couple of bigger bodies in order to clamp down on the run. A big question going into Saturday’s matchup was if that predictability would continue, or if the playbook was deeper but hadn’t been forced out during the first three games of the season. The Rebels stuck to their game plan against Alabama and were exposed accordingly, with the Crimson Tide running up 451 yards and tacking 42 points on the scoreboard. Honestly, this just looked like the coaching staff trying to beat Nick Saban at the pre-snap chess match, and losing terribly. By having six defensive backs on the field at a time, the defense puts just five men in the box, which concedes the run game entirely to the offense, but focuses on stopping big plays. This would be the equivalent of the Ole Miss coaches saying “Listen, we aren’t going to stop their offense, but we can control them and try to force them into longer drives, thus limiting the amount of points they can score”. This is a confidence move. This is putting the entire game on the offense and trusting them to score consistently and with speed. As we all sadly watched, the gamble did not pay off. Ole Miss scored just 21 points against an Alabama defense that looked disciplined and talented. Also unfortunately for the Rebels, the Crimson Tide offense held up their end of the bargain as their running backs rushed for 214 yards on 45 carries, at a strong 4.75 YPC pace.
Offensive Line Needs Improvement
Winning football games starts up front. It has always worked that way, and it will always work that way. Straight up, the Ole Miss offensive line did not do enough to win. While their assignment was tough with players like Phidarian Mathis and Will Anderson in the Alabama front seven, the Rebels nonetheless needed to block better. While just two sacks were allowed, there were seven quarterback pressures and seven tackles for loss. With the Ole Miss offense running 63 total plays, this means that just over 25% of snaps resulted in a pressure or loss of yardage. That’s atrocious. Combine that with the fact that the Rebels gained just 78 rushing yards on 34 carries for an average of 2.2 YPC, it’s safe to say that the Rebels were dominated up front. With that amount of disruption from the defense, it becomes nearly impossible for the offense to establish any type of consistent rhythm.
Corral may have fixed the turnover problem
There is a positive to take away from the game Saturday. Matt Corral looks to have taken serious steps in his development since last season. Corral was given a tall task, to go into Tuscaloosa and pull out a win with no help from the run game and under constant pressure. If this had been the stage for last season’s game against Alabama, it is plausible to say that this could have been a three or more interception outing for the quarterback. Instead, Corral showed the management skills needed to succeed at the next level. Corral was 21 for 29, had 213 yards, one touchdown and threw no interceptions. While his stateline was nothing special , this might be the game that has NFL scouts shuffling their QB boards and taking a harder look at Corral as more than just an exciting college highlight tape. Moving forward, this should give Rebel fans confidence that their quarterback is going to be able to hold his own in dog fights down the stretch. Granted, the rest of the offense needs to perform at a complimentary level, but Corral today proved that Matt Corral is the truth.