Alabama’s come-from-behind win over Ole Miss Saturday was impressive, but it might have highlighted one of the Tide’s only flaws and given the rest of the SEC a gameplan to compete with Nick Saban’s team this season.
It’s not an easy-to-implement formula, to be fair, but it sure beats hoping that quarterback Jalen Hurts has a bad game for the Tide.
If you have a strong offensive line, big, athletic receivers, a quarterback willing to do it all himself, and you play with tempo, you might be able to beat No. 1 Alabama.
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Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly knew the formula Saturday. He knew it last year, too, when the Rebels beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama is the best team in the nation in 2016, but Saturday they looked extremely vulnerable in pass defense.
Kelly took advantage of the shaky Alabama secondary, averaging 10.6 yards per attempt in the contest. Even when Alabama counterpunched, the Ole Miss passing attack kept the Rebels in the contest.
The Ole Miss run game was nearly nonexistent and was quickly abandoned. That’s for the best — you can’t run on Alabama’s dominant front-seven, so why bother trying?
But you can spread the field and throw on the Tide.
The poor performance of Alabama’s top cornerback, Marlon Humphrey, against Ole Miss has to be particularly interesting to opposing offensive coordinators. He didn’t look anything like lockdown against Ole Miss' big-bodied receivers. Kelly went at him directly and frequently Saturday — and got the better of him more often than not.
If not for safety Eddie Jackson — who was strong both in coverage and on a 85-punt return that turned the contest — it might have been worse.
Sure enough, when Jackson went to the locker room in the fourth quarter, Ole Miss immediately scored, throwing it right at Jackson’s replacement.
Jackson isn’t expected to miss any future games — the best-case scenario for Alabama.
While the formula is out there, it’s unlikely the Alabama secondary will be tested often in SEC play this season — the teams that can come close to matching Alabama’s talent man-for-man, like Ole Miss, typically don’t have big-gain passing games.
Arkansas’ offense has shown some dynamism, but that’s still a run-first team.
Tennessee runs a conservative offensive system around Josh Dobbs.
LSU? Don’t joke. That's a one-dimensional offense.
Those teams might be able to beat the Tide, but they’ll have to do so going directly at the strength of Alabama’s team — its front-seven.
But Texas A&M, which boasts its best defense in Kevin Sumlin's time in College Station and has a big-play offense with some of the best receivers in the nation, has a shot to take Bama through the air.
And it’s hard to imagine a possible College Football Playoff opponent wouldn’t have some passing ability either.
Alabama might be able to sure up the secondary in the coming days and weeks — Saban is arguably the greatest defensive backs coach to ever live, so it’s hard to believe that the problems will persist. But they were evident Saturday in Oxford, and the longer they last, the more susceptible the best team in the nation will look.