TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- For the Alabama Crimson Tide, Saturday's showdown against Ole Miss will be a return to SEC action and the beginning of the meat of the conference schedule.
For the Rebels, it's just the start of league play. First-year coach Hugh Freeze has guided his team to a 3-1 record so far, but he knows the real challenge lies ahead at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa where he'll meet the team he called "arguably the gold standard in football right now."
1. Slowing down the Rebels: Alabama has dealt with a a no-huddle, spread attack before this season. As UA defensive end Damion Square put it earlier this week, "We've seen it more than y'all probably recognized it." But against Ole Miss, the attack will be different. The read-option has been very effective for the Rebels, who have increased their points per game average 20 points from a year ago. The challenge for the defense will be all about communication and execution. As UA safety Robert Lester said, "They can go as fast as they want it, and as long as you've seen it before, you're prepared for it and can adjust to it."
2. The beginning of the downslide?: Ole Miss' numbers could be misleading, though. The Rebels schedule has been soft to start the season, with the exception of a home date with Texas where the Longhorns scored more than 60 points. Freeze has gotten the Rebels out to a 3-1 start with wins over Tulane, Central Arkansas and UTEP. On Saturday, the real fun begins with SEC play. And from now until the season ends, the road only gets harder as Ole Miss faces the likes of Texas A&M, Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Mississippi State.
3. Running outside the tackles: The Longhorns exposed the Ole Miss defense in a number of ways, but what might be most interesting to Alabama running backs is the success Texas had going outside the tackles, racking up nearly as many yards inside as they did outside, and on half the number of carries. Throw in a pulling guard like Chance Warmack and that number could swell in Tuscaloosa if Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and Co. can bounce it outside and find greener pastures. Because, as Hugh Freeze put it, Alabama's line is "one of the best I've seen on tape and that's why they are where they're ranked now."
4. Stopping Scott: What a difference a year has made for Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott. Through four games, he's already found the end zone half the number of times he did last year and his yards per carry have skyrocketed. He's up from 4.6 yards per touch to 8.6. Along with two running quarterbacks and the depth behind him at tailback in Randall Mackey and I'Tavius Mathers, the Rebels have a diverse running attack capable of testing a defense, even one as good as Alabama's.
5. The turnover battle: If there's a glaring hole in Ole Miss' game, it's the ability to win the turnover battle. The Tide and the Rebels couldn't be on more opposite ends of the spectrum as far as that aspect of the game is concerned. Alabama's been stingy with the ball, forcing 12 turnovers while giving up just three. Meanwhile, Ole Miss is in the negative range of turnovers, giving up three more turnovers than its recovered on defense.