Top Heisman Trophy candidates Bryce Young and Matt Corral will share the spotlight when No. 1 Alabama and No. 12 Ole Miss meet in Tuscaloosa on Saturday afternoon, but the coaches bring their own story arc into the game.
Young has an early stranglehold on the Heisman — surprisingly, he would be the first ‘Bama quarterback to win it — while Corral has quietly moved into the group of top candidates. DraftKings lists Alabama as a 14.5-point favorite. Young is No. 5 in the FBS in passing efficiency. Corral is No. 8, and he has not thrown an interception this season.
Next stop: 𝐓 𝐔 𝐒 𝐂 𝐀 𝐋 𝐎 𝐎 𝐒 𝐀 ‼️
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 26, 2021
Meanwhile, on the sidelines…
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, who was Alabama’s offensive coordinator under Nick Saban from 2014-16 before going to Florida Atlantic and now Ole Miss, threw some fuel on the rivalry when he suggested that Alabama has an extra recruiting edge because of an NCAA transfer rule that permitted immediate eligibility.
So there’s that.
First, the game. If it is anything like last year’s, be prepared for a long afternoon.
Alabama won a defenseless 63-48 meeting in Oxford in Kiffin’s first year in 2020, when the teams combined for 1,370 yards in total offense. The Tide had 723 yards, and running back Najee Harris had five rushing touchdowns on 23 carries for 206 yards. His fumble was the game’s only turnover.
Other numbers stood out. There were more touchdowns (15) than incomplete passes (11) — Corral was 21-of-28 for 365 yards and two scores while the Crimson Tide’s Mac Jones was 28-of-32 for 417 yards and two touchdowns.
The game was decided in the fourth quarter, when Alabama broke from a 42-42 tie with three touchdowns in the final 10 minutes. While ‘Bama had touchdowns on all six of its second-half possessions, a couple of defensive stops forced the Rebels into two fourth-quarter field goals after they twice got inside the Alabama 15-yard line. It was more than enough the cushion for the Tide.
Kiffin, who scheduled an off day to prepare for the game this week, said what others are thinking about Alabama and the transfer portal last week.
“Not only do they get the best draft picks, but they get to go into free agency and take players,” said Kiffin, whose resumé also includes a tour as the head coach of the Raiders.
“Now they go to cherry-pick players for any holes they may have like an Ohio State receiver or a Tennessee linebacker. It really is going to set up one of the most talented teams ever, which is what we’re getting ready to play.”
Kiffin’s point was made in the Tide’s 63-14 victory over Southern Miss last Saturday, when Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams had 258 all-purpose yards on four touches.
— Alabama Athletics (@UA_Athletics) September 26, 2021
Williams scored on a 100-yard kickoff return to open the game and an 83-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter. In between, he caught an 81-yard touchdown pass from Young. Tennessee transfer linebacker Henry To’o To’o leads the Crimson Tide with 25 tackles.
Saban agreed with Kiffin, in a way.
“In theory, the best players are not going to leave the best programs,” Saban said. “But there will be people that want to leave and go to the best programs. Some (players on) the back end of your roster who think they might not play may leave, but that doesn’t hurt you that much.”
A Look At Alabama
Alabama survived a scare at No. 11 Florida two weeks ago, holding on for a 31-29 victory when the Gators lined up incorrectly on a failed two-point conversion after a 75-yard drive with 3:10 left. Florida also had a 99-yard drive in the second half after Alabama took a 21-3 lead.
Sophomore Young had three touchdown passes against the Gators and is coming off the best game of his young career after throwing five touchdown passes on 20-of-22 accuracy against Southern Miss.
🐘 312 Pass Yds
🐘 5 Pass TD
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 26, 2021
The Tide has given up 283.5 yards a game in total defense, but it was gouged for 440 yards by Florida, which had 245 yards on the ground and averaged 5.7 yards per carry. Alabama had only 91 yards rushing. The Tide had trouble containing mobile Gators’ quarterback Emory Jones.
A Look At Ole Miss
Ole Miss leads the FBS in total offense, and it is not even close. The up-tempo Rebels average 635.3 yards per game, more than 75 yards ahead of No. 2 Ohio State, against a schedule that has included Louisville, Austin Peay and Tulane.
The Rebels also lead the FBS in points per game, 52.7, averaging six points more than Alabama. Dual-threat Corral has 993 yards passing and nine touchdowns and 158 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) September 28, 2021
Ole Miss has sent wide receivers D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown and Elijah Moore to the NFL since 2019, all as second-round draft picks. But like Alabama at most positions, SEC teams reload rather than rebuild.
By The Numbers
The Rebels have lost their last two in the series but are 2-0 ATS, both offensive shootouts. Ole Miss covered the 23-point spread in the 63-48 loss in Oxford last season and beat the 38-point number in a 59-31 loss in the last meeting in Tuscaloosa in 2019. Alabama won the previous two games, 62-7 and 66-3, when favored by at least three touchdowns.
The Tide is 2-2 ATS this season after covering as a 45-point favorite against Southern Miss last week. They were 9-4 ATS in their undefeated national championship season in 2020. Alabama is 6-8-1 since 2017 when it was favored by 15 points or less, the most recent the 31-29 victory over Florida as a 14.5-point favorite.
The Pick: Like Florida, Ole Miss has the athletes capable of playing with Alabama. Corral has mastered Kiffin’s offense, and while the Rebels are stepping up in class this week, they have the weapons to keep the margin reasonable.