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Alabama Finds Answers Against Ole Miss

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The Alabama run game shook off a six-quarter dry spell with a big second half, including this 68-yard touchdown by T.J. Yeldon, despite the offensive line missing its starting center. Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images.
The Alabama run game shook off a six-quarter dry spell with a big second half, including this 68-yard touchdown by T.J. Yeldon, despite the offensive line missing its starting center. Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images.

Through the first three games of the season, Alabama has struggled in one or two areas during each game. The defense played well in two games, but Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel shredded Alabama in a 49-42 Tide win. The offense struggled running the ball in wins against Virginia Tech and Colorado State. Could the Tide play a complete game against a young, but talented Ole Miss team? Here are some takeaways after No. 1 Alabama (4-0, 2-0) shut out No. 21 Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1) 25-0:

Defense Still Wins Championships

There was one shutout in FBS College Football on Saturday. It happened in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Ole Miss offense, which came into the game averaging more than 38 points and 490 yards per game, was held to 205 total yards. The Rebels were held scoreless for the first time since 1998. It was the first shutout in the career of Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze.

Three fourth-down stands inside its own territory were the top highlights from an otherwise-dominant performance from the Alabama defense. Ole Miss finished with just 205 yards of total offense (only 87 yards in the second half) two weeks after it ran roughshod over Texas for 449 yards in Austin, Texas. Ole Miss averaged 250 rushing yards in their first three games. Alabama held them to 46 yards on 25 carries.

Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace has a “slow” delivery and throws a low trajectory pass. Alabama defenders were able to deflect four passes, including C.J. Mosley on fourth down inside the Alabama 10-yard line.

Even though Ole Miss has some of the most talented wide receivers in college football with Evan Engram, Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell, the staple of the Ole Miss offense is the zone-read option. Wallace has the option of keeping the ball or pitching it to running back Jeff Scott, who is dangerous on the corner. Alabama did an exceptional job of forcing Scott to run inside where he can only pick up minimal yardage between the tackles. Wallace is a talented, tough quarterback, but he doesn’t have the elusiveness of Johnny Manziel.

Cyrus Kouandjio Not Living Up To Billing

The Tide still needs to improve blocking on the corners by offensive tackles and tight ends. Preseason All-SEC Cyrus Kouandjio was beaten frequently in the first half. Has an injury impacted his play?

The Rebels' defensive front is quick and active. Offensive line coach Mario Cristobal helped Kouandjio some in the second half, putting tight end Brandon Greene or Brian Vogler on the left side of the line. Cristobal also moved starting right guard Anthony Steen to the left side on one third-and-1 that Alabama converted easily.

MVP Of The Game

Alabama special teams have been special all season. Kicker Cade Foster scored all of Alabama points in the first half, including a career long of 53 yards, giving the Tide a 9-0 lead at halftime.

Alabama did play its most complete game of the season in beating the Rebels. A tough September slate of three Top-25 teams is over and the Tide stand at 4-0, still ranked No. 1 in the nation. The October schedule of Georgia State, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee does not look as daunting. However, the Tide needs to continue to improve in all areas and play to a high standard with the LSU showdown looming Nov. 9.

Questions And Answers

Would the same strategy Alabama used successfully against Texas A&M work against Ole Miss?

How did Alabama slow down Manziel? Keep him on the sidelines. Alabama had a 10-minute time of possession advantage against the Aggies.

Could Alabama use the same strategy against Ole Miss? Yes. The Tide finished the game with an 18-minute time of possession advantage with a short passing game and rejuvenated run game in the second half.  Why did Alabama have such an advantage in time possession? Its third-down conversion rate improved dramatically.  After only making 2-of-10 against Colorado State last week, the Tide converted 8-of-17 on third down against Ole Miss.

Could the Alabama running game improve against a fast, talented Rebels defense?

Alabama only gained 66 yards in 21 rushing attempts in last Saturday’s game against Colorado State. At halftime of the Ole Miss game, Alabama fans thought they were watching a replay of Colorado State as Alabama had only gained 36 yards. But TJ Yeldon’s 68-yard run sparked the Tide’s rushing game in the second half.

Give McCarron credit for calling the correct play against the Rebels defense. With the short passing game working, Ole Miss had seven defenders spread out in pass coverage. McCarron called a quick count and Yeldon sprinted through the hole and did a spin move and only had to outrun the safety for the touchdown.

Alabama gained 218 yards rushing in the second half. Even more impressive, starting center Ryan Kelly left the game with a sprained MCL and reserve Chad Lindsey entered the game and blocked the Ole Miss defensive front amazingly well. His shield block on Ole Miss linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche sprang Yeldon on the touchdown run. Alabama now is 52-0 in the Saban era when running for more than 150 yards in a game.

Could the rebuilt secondary stand up to the Ole Miss passing game?

The Rebels have four receivers who stand 6-foot-2 or taller: Engram, Treadwell, Moncrief and Vince Sanders. How would the patchwork Alabama secondary of Deion Belue playing with a turf toe injury and true freshmen Eddie Jackson starting his first game defend the tall and fast Rebels receiving corps?

Jackson stunned everyone with his poised play (an interception of a trick play, four tackles, one tackle for loss, two pass breakups and one reversed ejection).

Belue showed no ill effects of turf toe, shutting down one side of the field, and made a key deflection of a fourth-down pass in the fourth quarter. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had a team-high eight tackles and two pass breakups. Ole Miss averaged five yards per pass. 

Up next: Alabama faces Georgia State in Tuscaloosa on Saturday at 11:21 am CT on the SEC Network.