Ole Miss is smart enough to not pull a Vanderbilt move during the week it plays Alabama, but that doesn’t stop head coach Nick Saban from creating different forms of motivation.
In Wednesday’s presser, he said the biggest sign of disrespect is facing a program that silently knows it has your number. While the Crimson Tide clinched a berth in the College Football Playoff in 2014 and 2015, the Rebels got the better of Saban’s team in both seasons.
Excluding Hugh Freeze and Dan Werner from the conversation, Mississippi’s formula to defeat Alabama remains intact – especially with having a solid offensive line, an unorthodox quarterback and a wealth of physical, game-changing wide receivers on the perimeter.
Although the Southeastern Conference thrives on defense, first-year offensive coordinator Phil Longo knows the best way to keep this game competitive is having Shea Patterson on the field.
As a sophomore, Patterson represents the unscripted signal callers that have given the Crimson Tide headaches in recent years. He’s currently in the top-10 in FBS in passing yards (1,281), passing yards/game (427), completion percentage (70.5 %), touchdown passes (11) and passing efficiency rating (181.9). According to Saban, the Louisiana native reminds him of former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel — whom of which defeated Alabama in the 2012 season.
“One of the hardest things on defense is when a quarterback extends plays,” Saban said.
“Maybe you match the pattern, but then it becomes a scramble drill and it’s impossible to have a set of rules for how everybody matches every pattern when things go helter skelter. That happens on occasion and we have worked on it this week, but I think when the defensive line can control the quarterback it can be very helpful.”
Patterson, like Manziel, Bo Wallace and Chad Kelly, has a strong arm, but he anticipates delivering passes quickly. Since having the redshirt burned off him last season, the product of IMG Academy has totaled a pair of 400-yard passing performances. Along with complimenting the five-star’s arm and athletic capabilities, Saban also dove into Ole Miss’ offensive prowess.
“Their scheme is very spread oriented,” Saban said.
“There’s a lot of RPO’s with a lot of run plays, so he [Patterson] understands it really well and he runs it really well. Just about every running play has a pass with it, so you teach players to read run/pass. It creates a lot of complexity on defense and the defense has to do a good job of being disciplined in how they play those plays, and when they haven’t played those correctly, Shea has certainly taken advantage and he’s played extremely well in all three games.”
Alabama’s Rashaan Evans, Anfernee Jennings, Da’Shawn Hand and Raekwon Davis will all be critical components in keeping Patterson within the pocket. Preventing clutch receptions from receivers shall be a challenge for the secondary, but defending the Rebels starts up front.
“These quarterbacks can be problematic when you can’t control with your rushers,” Saban said.
“It’s difficult on defensive players and it takes a lot of out them when you have to chase a guy down two or three plays longer than a normal play.”
Aside from Patterson, another positive for Mississippi heading into Saturday is that Alabama typically struggles in night games. In its losses to LSU (2010, 2011), Texas A&M (2012) and Ole Miss (2015), the games have either been at night or in the afternoons and journey into the night.
It will be interesting to see how Alabama’s defense chooses to attack the Rebels, as ESPN will carry the matchup at 8:00 p.m. (CT) from Bryant-Denny Stadium.