Rested Rebels Prepare For Alabama
Sept. 25, 2017

By Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com 

A rested Ole Miss team is returning to work after its bye week to prepare for inarguably its toughest test of the season against top-ranked Alabama. The Rebels left California a little battered and bruised. Head Coach Matt Luke hopes the well-timed week off will help the team get as healthy as possible before venturing to Tuscaloosa.

Luke said center Sean Rawlings is in a walking boot, has not practiced this week and is doubtful for Saturday night’s game. He is the core of the Rebels’ offensive line and there will be some shifting up front if Rawlings cannot play.

“It’s probably going to be Jordan Sims with Javon Patterson at left guard and Alex Givens at right guard,” Luke said. “That’s the way we’ll start the game. If Sean can go, then we’d have Javon and Jordan back at guard.”

Patterson has three career starts at center, and filled in at Cal after Rawlings left the game, but Luke noted last week that Sims playing center is more about being able to get his best five players on the field at the same time more than anything else.

Wide receiver A.J. Brown will be a game-time decision with a strained MCL. Defensive end Victor Evans will try to practice this week and hopes to take the field in Tuscaloosa. Kicker Gary Wunderlich will also give it a go.
Alabama dismantled a good Vanderbilt team last Saturday 59-0. Luke is aware of the daunting challenge facing his team. He welcomes it.

“They’re No. 1 in the country for a reason,” Luke said. “It was impressive to watch them against Vanderbilt. They ran the ball really well. They’re running for over 300 yards per game. Most impressive thing is they haven’t turned the ball over yet. That’s very, very impressive.”

Alabama out-gained the Commodores 677-78 in the win. The Tide boast a balanced attack and complement it with a physical defense. Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts is really what can take the Alabama offense to another level, depending on how he plays.

“The biggest thing you see with Hurts is just how calm he is back there,” Luke said. “He doesn’t get rattled. It almost looks effortless, making guys miss. Just how poised he is, very impressive for a guy that young. He’s been in a lot of big games.”

The poise and sense of calmness Hurts displays jumped out on film for defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff.

“I haven’t seen a quarterback run as smoothly as he does in a long time,” McGriff said. “It is going to be important that we stay simple, play fast and be able to tear off blocks.”

McGriff said the defense will focus a lot of time in practice to defending Alabama’s rushing attack that is spearheaded by Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris. The Crimson Tide do a great job disguising similar run plays with different formations, luring the opposing defense into pre-snap alignment mistakes.

“If forces us to pay more attention to the run fits,” McGriff said. “We will give them more changes up front so we are not always in the same gap or technique.”

Offensively, Ole Miss would do well to mirror what Alabama does best in terms of the balance it portrays. The Tide’s front seven is among the best in college football, and the Rebels will need to be balance and get the ball out of Shea Patterson’s hand quickly, particularly with a battered offensive line.

“Throw it fast. Play fast,” Luke said. “We’ve got to play fast, try to keep them out of their comfort zone. We have very simple answers for him in the pass game. You can’t sit back there and hold it. They’ve got good pass rushers and good coverage guys. It’s very important to play fast and get them out of their comfort zone.”

Ole Miss has struggled to run the football at times this season and will need to be more effective in that area if it wishes to stay in the game.

“Their front seven is just fantastic,” offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. “There is no question that probably more than any game we have played, balance on offense is going to be important against their front seven and defense as a whole.”

Shea Patterson’s mobility will aide in helping the running game a little bit, but Luke would like him to do so selectively to avoid becoming vulnerable to violent hits.

“I do think there is a place for him to carry it to help out in the run game some,” Luke said. “He’s a good enough athlete to do that, but you have to pick and choose your spots.”

Kickoff on Saturday is slated for 8 p.m. CT on ESPN.

 

 

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