It’s a rare scenario as it’s only week 11, but Alabama’s playoff hopes are on life support at absolute best. They could be completely extinguished for once and for all this weekend, as they’re staring down another tough road trip to one-loss #11 Ole Miss, who are surely playoff long shots but certainly have a better case right now the Tide do. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for this intriguing SEC matchup.
Alabama Vs. Ole Miss Prediction & Pick
While Ole Miss has only dropped one game this year, it happened at arguably the worst time possible; with that solitary loss, they no longer control their own SEC destiny. In fact, FiveThirtyEight’s playoff prediction model states that they’d only have a 37% chance of being selected if they were to win the rest of their games. Still, this is college football and chaos can happen, so finishing the season at 11-1 would be no small prize for Lane Kiffin’s bunch. They just barely stayed alive a week ago with a 31-28 road win over a Texas A&M team that has a good amount of talent, but has struggled massively this season to the tune of a 3-6 record. They’re going to need to be a lot sharper this week if they want to beat a much better opponent in Alabama, but ironically they’ll look to work a similar game script as their excellent rushing offense put up 390 yards on the ground last weekend.
Alabama has less to play for than they basically ever have under Nick Saban, especially in the playoff era. Still, they’re a team that doesn’t have an off switch; they prioritize winning at all times, and this Saturday will be absolutely no exception. Two losses in three regular season three weeks is fairly uncharted territory for the Tide in recent years, and they’ll be highly motivated to turn that trend around. Bryce Young also has a bit to play for; his Heisman defense looks pretty much shot but you never know with a player of his caliber, and of course there’s still jockeying for draft position between himself and other top prospects, namely Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud. It was a tough outing for ‘Bama a week ago; they actually outgained LSU by almost 100 total yards, but their execution at the margins was just not as good. Of course that’s something that does happen in tough road environments like Death Valley, but rarely to Alabama. This week will be another rowdy, hostile environment, but if anyone can get his team ready and turn things around, it’s certainly Nick Saban
I do see Alabama ending up winning this one, but I’m not confident enough in them that I could in good conscience stake them at almost a two-touchdown spread. This team hasn’t been burying opponents, even when they have been winning, and the road has not been too kind to them. Moreover, I just don’t see them stopping Ole Miss’s rushing attack enough to really pull away; PFF lists them as the top run-stopping unit in the country, but in recent weeks they’ve shown some susceptibility against top attacks. That being said, Ole Miss isn’t stopping Young, Jahmyr Gibbs and co. either, so I’m going to take the over.
Alabama Vs. Ole Miss Odds
Alabama are installed as pretty sizable favorites on the road, with the line sitting around 11.5 points; somewhat surprising considering their recent form. A less surprising number is the points total of 63.5, more par for the course considering the offensive talent and defensive struggles for both teams of late.
Alabama vs Ole Miss Key Matchups
Ole Miss Rushing Offense vs. Alabama Run Defense
As I alluded to just above, this matchup will be strength against strength. Ole Miss have rushed for the third-most yards per game (267.4) among all FBS schools, and are eighth in PFF’s team rushing score. Meanwhile, Alabama has given up the 11th-fewest ground yards per game (104.0) and as I mentioned, they are tops in PFF’s run defense score.
Something absolutely has to give; will it be Ole Miss’s dominant ground attack? If it is, it’s most likely because the offensive line didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. While PFF loves the job the running backs have done, they rank the Rebels’ o-line as just the 79th-best run blocking unit in the nation. Outside of starting guards Jeremy James and Nick Broeker, who have been fine but not elite, the line has been pretty brutal in this aspect of the game. Their rushing success has come largely on the shoulders of star back Quinshon Judkins, who has a run grade of over 90, 13 touchdowns, and he’s just cracked the thousand-yard plateau in 9 games played. #2 back Zach Evans has been less prolific but he’s put up some solid volume as well, as has QB Jaxson Dart; both of these secondary runners are averaging a very strong 6.3 yards per carry.
Judkins et al will be running into an essential brick wall, the best run-stopping unit in the country by some measures. They’re anchored by a combo of future top pick Will Anderson on the edge and Byron Young as a down lineman, but there’s run-prevention talent at all levels of this group. The team’s top run defender according to PFF is actually safety DeMarcco Hellams, who has a grade of over 90 and just about the most snaps in run defense of anyone on the team. If there’s a weakness, it’s full-time starting linebacker Henry To’o To’o, who has struggled a bit with missing tackles, but the Tide defense overall is the sixth-best tackling unit in the nation. I don’t think Judkins is really the kind of back you ever stop or neutralize, but beating Ole Miss means minimizing his impact and explosive plays; Alabama is equipped to do just that.
Bryce Young vs. Ole Miss Defense
In previewing previous matchups this season, I’ve alluded to the task of defending Young as a full-team undertaking, one at which most teams fail. Last week however, we saw an LSU squad who actually got the job done, at least enough to pick up the win. Under Young, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Alabama have put up the 6th-most points per game in FBS (41.8), and the 17th-most total yards of offense (482.9). Against LSU, those numbers took a dip, particularly the scoring, as the Tide fell in overtime, as Young himself struggled more than he has at almost any point of his collegiate career. His completion percentage dipped below 50%, something we’ve only seen from him once before as a starter, and he threw just his fourth interception of the season. He’ll need to be sharper against Ole Miss if his team is going to avoid defeat for the third time in about a month.
Fortunately for Young, he’ll be facing a slightly softer defense than he did a week ago; PFF has Ole Miss in the “good but not great” territory of 42nd in overall defense and 45th in pass coverage, with a better pass rush ranking of 25th. The edge rushing duo of Jared Ivey and Cedric Johnson has contributed significantly to that grade, as has do-it-all starting linebacker Troy Brown, who has excelled in run defense as well. The secondary has been good but not great, highlighted by safety AJ Finley, accompanied by the up-and-down supporting case of #1 cornerback Deantre Prince and two more safeties in Trey Washington and Ladarius Tennison. Ole Miss’s defense isn’t the best one Alabama has faced thus far, but they’re not far off; if they’re at their best, they have the ability to limit Young and the Alabama offense enough to make this a tight game.