Alabama may have lost their hopes of winning another championship after losing to LSU last week, but there is no time to mourn before they travel to Oxford to face the #11 Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday.
Under Nick Saban, Alabama has never lost back-to-back regular-season games since his first season with the Crimson Tide in 2007. The Tide will be heavily tested by an Ole Miss offense that ranks third in the SEC in total yards.
Here are some key things to look for against Ole Miss:
With the ultimate goal of a national championship off the table, how will the Alabama players respond and what will their mindset be? Alabama will need to establish new goals and continue to improve individually for the remainder of the season. One goal the Crimson Tide can focus on is having a 10-win season, something they have done every year except the first year of Nick Saban’s tenure at Alabama. It’s only natural to be disappointed when you are playing football games, knowing that you can’t achieve your ultimate goal, but the following games will show which players have bought into the process and which players have mailed it in.
The Crimson Tide rush defense has been a strong point for the defense this season as they rank 11th in the nation, limiting their opponents to just 104 rushing yards per game. In both of their losses this season, Alabama has struggled to stop the run, allowing Tennessee to run for 182 yards, and in the latest loss to LSU they gave up 185 yards on the ground. If Alabama wants to prevent a third loss of the season they will need to load up the box to stop this high-powered Ole Miss running game. Ole Miss is third in the nation in rushing, averaging 267 yards per game led by true freshman Quinshon Judkins. Judkins, leads the SEC with 13 rushing touchdowns and has 1,036 rushing yards, ranking him second in the league in that category. Judkins backup, TCU transfer Zach Evans, has added 680 rushing yards and seven touchdowns to the Ole Miss rushing attack.
Win or lose, Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs continues to perform and be the Crimson Tide’s most valuable player while approaching a couple of individual milestones. Gibbs leads the Crimson Tide with 39 receptions leading the next-highest receiver by 10 catches. The Alabama record for catches by a running back is 48 held by Kevin Turner in 1989. With Gibbs averaging around four catches a game, he could easily break this record in the next couple of games. Another milestone Gibbs is closing in on is reaching 1,000 rushing yards. Gibbs needs 229 more yards to accomplish this goal. At his current pace of averaging 85 yards per game, he should reach it by the end of the season, but with his big game potential, I wouldn’t be surprised if he reaches 1,000 rushing yards in the next two games.
After a below-average performance last week against LSU, completing less than 50% of his passes, Young should be eager to get back on the field and return to his Heisman-quality quarterback play. All season long, Young has battled adversity from poor offensive line play, injury, and young, inexperienced receivers that create little to no separation. Despite all the adversity and missing a game and a half due to a shoulder injury, Young is still ranked fourth in passing in the SEC. Now with all the pressure off his shoulders to bring home another national championship for the Crimson Tide, hopefully he can relax and have fun out there and finish the year strong and help develop some of the young Alabama receivers starting this week.
A second loss in the regular season is unacceptable to the Alabama standards, and someone has to be held responsible. Monday Nick Saban was asked about his thoughts on the performance of offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien.
"Look there's things we need to do to be better in every part of our organization," Saban said. "I'm not going to analyze someone publicly good, bad or indifferent. We're all working hard together and we're all responsible for what we do. Do we need to play better on both sides of the ball? Absolutely. We gotta play better up front, we have to make less mistakes organizationally. There's not a coach or a player in this organization that can't do things better to help our players have a better chance to be successful."
Saban handled this question perfectly, he took responsibility, said everyone needs to get better, he didn’t call out his coordinator, but the most important takeaway is that he didn’t defend O’Brien, which tells me that Saban is not pleased and O’Brien could be on his way out soon.
While O’Brien is almost surely on his way out, defensive coordinator Pete Golding’s seat is getting warm as well. The defense overall has been pretty solid, but the lack of being able to close out games has been a major disappointment for Tide fans.
There may not be championships on the line Saturday against Ole Miss, these coordinators’ jobs and pride very well may be.
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