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Vassallo: The Stakes Are High in Tuscaloosa

Ole Miss looks to defeat Alabama for the second straight year. Hottytoddy.com file photo
Ole Miss looks to defeat Alabama for the second straight year. Hottytoddy.com file photo

Saturday night’s matchup in Tuscaloosa between our Ole Miss Rebels and Alabama will be one of few times when both teams have come into the game so highly ranked. Bama is ranked second in both the Amway Coaches Poll and AP Poll and 7th in the ESPN Power Index.

Ole Miss is 11th, 15th and first respectively. And in Vegas, Bama currently is a seven point favorite, which is primarily the home field advantage. The oddsmakers are predicting a 30-23 Bama victory.

Playing Alabama away has not been kind to Ole Miss as Bama has won its last 12 games at home over the Rebs. Last year’s 23-17 victory by Ole Miss snapped a 10 game winning streak by the Tide. All-time Bama holds a commanding 25-1 record when playing as the home team. Nick Saban is 12-1 in SEC home openers including his tenure at LSU. At Alabama he is 8-0.

Who has the advantage in 2015? We’ll examine the overview and let you make the final decision. We’ll supply the facts as seen from this perspective in Oxford. Starting at the most important position, quarterback, senior Jake Coker for the Tide is well rested having sat out the second half a week ago. He threw for 214 yards in the first half, besting his career high against Wisconsin at 213. He is an extremely smart player at 6-5, 232 from Mobile who transferred in from Florida State.

He played in seven games for Bama last year and 11 for the Seminoles in 2012 and 2013. Coker does not turn the ball over often as he has but “one” interception in his collegiate career! On the Rebel side of the ledger, how could anyone ask for more from Chad Kelly as the junior ranks #1 in pass efficiency in the SEC compared to 10th for Coker. Kelly is averaging 278 yards through the air.

The running game could hold Bama’s trump card as junior running back Derrick Henry is third in the league with a 121 yard average. Ole Miss does not have a back in the top 10. Henry at 6′ 3”, 242 is hard to contain and will present mega problems for the Ole Miss defense.

When he arrived in Tuscaloosa from Yulee, Florida, he was the all-time HS leading rusher. In 26 career games, he is averaging 6.6 yards per carry with 17 TD’s! Ole Miss has a quality group of runners who must navigate through the best defensive line they will face all year. There is no weakness on the Bama DL and gaining yardage on the ground will be extremely difficult.

The receivers are another story altogether as Ole Miss probably holds the best group in the the country, bar none. Cody Core is currently second in the league in receiving yards per game at 88 with Quincy Adeboyejo fourth with 76. Kenyan Drake of the Tide is ninth with 70.

Drake broke his leg at Ole Miss last season. The 6’1”, 210 -pound senior was a four-star prospect from Georgia (Powder Springs) and is a versatile athlete in every respect. Ole Miss has more targets to throw to this year than at any time in recent memory. With AA’s Laquon

Treadwell and Evan Engram among this group, Chad Kelly’s most difficult issue tomorrow will be finding the open receiver among possibly several.( Engram, the 6-3, 227 lb. junior, is also from Powder Springs.)

Both defenses are Allstar quality and the same can be said for the offensive lines. All in all one could make a case for a low scoring game, but that’s hard to do as both offenses are scoring machines. Bama concluded practice this week by emphasizing special teams which could come down to being the difference in the game. Ole Miss excels in this area as well, but with all the touchdowns being scored thus far, field goals have been lost in the shuffle.

There you have it…two great teams facing each other in what could turn out to be the biggest game of the year in 2015 in college football.

Alabama has more to lose than Ole Miss. Here’s why. Should the Rebels play close and find themselves in the game in the fourth quarter, they then have already won the overall test. Even leaving Tuscaloosa
with an “L”, a potentially dangerous 11-1 Ole Miss team will be hard pressed to be left out of the final four with only a close road loss to the number two team.

On the other hand, a victory by the Rebs will power vault the team into a favorite’s position for the national championship. We’re only hours away. Will it be Roll Tide or Hotty Toddy? We may not know the answer until late November, but September 19th will be the first indication.

Steve Vassallo

Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.

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