I'm foregoing the weekly dose of Unsolicited Advice for this one.
Why? Because this game isn't going to come down to any sort of strategy. If you look at where Ole Miss is at right now, on paper, there's no way they beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. No matter how much strategizing they've done over the past 2 weeks, no matter how thoroughly they've targeted Bama's weaknesses, they just don't have the players to go on the road and defeat Alabama...IF the Tide shows up to play. And that's the great unknown here.
Are the players going to give up on being the best that they can be this season now that the undefeated streak is over and just sleep walk through this one? Or are they going to come back strong, perhaps even feeling liberated from the burden of that very streak, looking to make this game a statement as they begin forging a legacy separate from the 2009 team?
Unfortunately, no one's going to know the answer to that until the team steps onto the field Saturday night. I've done some digging to try to get a read of where the players' heads have been this week, but there doesn't seem to be a consenus. Some say it's been a lethargic week spent mostly on playing the blame game internally. Some say it's been a sharp, intense week of preparation with everyone focused on beating Ole Miss. So I can't say with any real certainty what we're going to get out of Alabama tomorow. But I can say that's what will determine the game.
And that's not to overlook Ole Miss at all. They do have some weapons on offense that have the potential to make it interesting, regardless of the Tide's mindset. I don't have much respect for Jeremiah Masoli as a passer, but he's a much more dynamic runner than the squirrely Stephen Garcia, who's own elusiveness caused a sloppy Tide defense problems last week. More poor tackling in the backfield could open up big plays for his legs. And, while not a high-profile guy, Brandon Bolden is a powerful back who will also exploit limp-wristed tackling. The Rebels even have a tall wide-out threat similar to Alshon Jeffery in the 6'6" Melvin Harris. (Granted, there is a lot more that makes Jeffery special besides his size.) On defense, they have big Jerrell Powe in the middle and one of the better minds in the game calling plays on that side of the ball, Tyrone Nix. But with their offensive line in shambles and their best defensive player (Kentrell Lockett) done for the year, it's just not going to be enough IF the Tide shows up.
And whichever Tide shows up on Saturday, that's going to be your clue as to how the rest of the season plays out. If they have their minds right and handle the Rebels like they ought to, then as John Rambo once said, NOTHING IS OVER. But if they show up flat and struggle, it's really difficult to seem them winning in Baton Rouge in two weeks, or against Auburn. A loss would even put next week's trip to Tennessee in question. It's THAT critical that they get their legs back underneath them in this game.
My preseason prediction for this game was a 35-6 Bama win. Since then, Masoli won his appeal to play this season, and the Bama defense hasn't progressed as far along as I thought it would. So my revised pick is...
Alabama 27, Ole Miss 17
Actually, you know what? I do have one bit of advice for the Tide this week...
THROW THE BALL DEEP
Seriously, guys. Everybody from here on out is going to stack the box and then shoot guys through every gap to stop Ingram and Richardson. The only way you're going to stop them from doing that is to THROW THE BALL DEEP. When you finally did that against South Carolina, you hit a long touchdown pass. DO MORE OF THAT. Look, I love the quick screens out to Julio and Maze. I'm on the record with that. But as of right now, that's the only constraint you're using against these full boxes. And, sure, that does help the running game by keeping the backside defenders from crashing down. However, it also has the effect of drawing the safeties even CLOSER to the line of scrimmage to stop the screens. In essence, you're letting opposing defenses play the game within 8 yards of the line. They're practically begging you to throw it over their heads. SO DO IT. Try throwing the go route to Maze. That was McElroy's favorite play last year, but I've yet to see it this season. Where did it go? This would be a good game to break it out. You're going to have to throw deep to win the second half of this season.
That's all I got.