Alabama will welcome the Southern Miss Golden Eagles into Tuscaloosa tonight at 6:30 p.m. in a very important game for the Tide.
Being ranked first in the nation, Alabama isn’t on any upset alerts this week against their Conference-USA opponent, but their SEC schedule is coming quickly. This game should be used as a tune-up for their game against Ole Miss next week which should be their toughest test yet.
Head coach Nick Saban’s team is coming off a close game for the first time this year, and though they got the win, they saw plenty to work on. Whether Saban is discussing rat-poison or some other antidote, he always discusses that you learn more from a close game or a loss.
It is easier to see a team’s flaws if they play a close game because you have your starters playing hard for a full game. That is something Saban had been looking for since week one.
The Crimson Tide really have three main areas to focus on this week to prepare for their SEC schedule coming up.
Consistency and intensity
Saban has been preaching intensity and consistency through an entire game since week one. In a way, his team achieved that last week against Florida.
Yet, in some ways, they fell short. The Tide looked incredible in the first quarter against the Gators winning the quarter 21-3 but then let Florida climb back to 21-16 early in the second half.
Yes, Alabama had to play hard and hold off the comeback attempt, but they should have never been in that position in the first place. Offense and defense both seemed to let their foot off the gas, and tried to coast through the rest of the game.
With the way Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss offense scores points quickly, the Tide cannot afford to do that next week.
So, against the Golden Eagles today, Alabama needs to treat this game like an SEC matchup and remain consistent and intense throughout the entire game — or at least the entire first half while the starters are still in the game.
The defense in particular needs to set a goal of holding the Golden Eagles under 14 points in an attempt to keep starters and second-stringers committed to a goal that will motivate them to the end.
Bama’s defense is looking better this year than it has since 2017. That is a testament to what Pete Goulding, the defensive coordinator, is trying to accomplish in Tuscaloosa. Henry To’oto’o is the Tide’s leading tackler on defense.
To’oto’o is in a leadership position on his side of the ball at linebacker and is leading by example with 22 tackles thus far this season. Fellow linebacker Christian Harris is playing well also with 19 tackles, nine of which are solo.
The linebackers will continue to play at a high level, but the defense this week needs to work on their five-man rush. When Alabama plays Ole Miss, their defense will need to be ready to rush five on occasion while still keeping their secondary sound.
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral is too quick and accurate with his release to let him stand in the pocket for more than a few seconds. Goulding will be looking to send pressure in that game, and the matchup with Southern Miss will be a good opportunity to practice in real-time.
If Alabama’s secondary gets burnt once or twice, their offense will be able to bounce back, but better to get burnt now instead of against a tough SEC opponent next week.
Adjusting at the half for Southern Miss is mostly pointless, unless the Golden Eagles shock the world in the first half. However, it will be important for Goulding and Saban to have the mindset that they are down at the half.
Against Florida last week, it took a lot of time for Alabama’s defense to shut down quarterback Emory Jones and the offense. Florida is arguably a better team than Ole Miss, but the Rebels offense is much better.
So, no matter the score against the Rebs, the Tide knows that their offense could come back stronger than Florida’s did, and then they might be in real trouble. Treating tonight’s game like a defensive Super Bowl will be hard but will only help prepare them for next week.
Running the ball
This one is pretty self-explanatory in itself. So far this season, the Crimson Tide offense has thrown the ball more than they have run it.
Brian Robinson, Jr. has been a bright spot in the rushing attack with 208 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. However, a second back has not emerged yet.
History tells us that at some point through their SEC schedule Bama will need to keep the ball on the ground for time management as well as opening up the passing game. Ole Miss will be looking to shut down Alabama’s potent passing attack early, and there is only one place left to turn.
In a progressively more impressive-looking SEC West, Alabama will not be able to go over the top in every game like last year. Look out for the Tide to have a heavy dose of their ground game tonight to get their running backs ready to hit holes that the offensive line will be bulldozing.
Hayden Crigler is a contributing college football and college basketball writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him through email: Hayden@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter: @hayden_crigler.