This is my column for today’s print editions:
TUSCALOOSA — No. 1-ranked Alabama polished off Ole Miss 33-14 on Saturday night, but ultimately, that game could mean more than an ordinary win over a team the Tide usually beats.
Running back De’Anthony Thomas has helped Oregon score about 52 points a game. (AP photo by Ted S. Warren)
The Rebels gave Alabama a solid workout against the no-huddle offense, and this won’t be the only time this season the Tide sees this particular attack. For example, Tennessee went to the no-huddle this year and used it to score five offensive touchdowns in a 51-44 loss to fifth-ranked Georgia. The Tide will play the Vols on Oct. 20 in Knoxville.
But if you want to look down the road to, say, Jan. 7 in Miami, Alabama could see the reigning champion of the no-huddle offense, Oregon.
It’s not unreasonable to anticipate this possible matchup. Alabama is No. 1 and Oregon No. 2 in the major polls. Each of the past three BCS National Championship Games have featured one of those two teams.
Good luck in getting Alabama coach Nick Saban to discuss the possibility of playing in Miami, much less against a particular opponent. But after beating Ole Miss, he was willing to talk about his unhappiness with the way the no-huddle occasionally dinged his Crimson Tide and his respect for how the Rebels do what they do.
“I don’t think people give Ole Miss enough credit. Their offense is difficult to defend with the no-huddle situation and the perimeter speed they have,” said Saban, whose team gets an open date Saturday.
Oregon averages about 52 points a game and runs an average of 85 plays, which is 20 more points and 14 more plays than Ole Miss. Only four FBS teams average more plays than the Ducks: Marshall (92), Arizona (88), Louisiana-Monroe (87) and Houston (87).
Alabama ranks second nationally in total defense behind Tommy Tuberville’s Texas Tech team, but the Tide is first in points allowed.
Alabama has given up only five touchdowns this season, but two came against Ole Miss. And they were the first two sustained touchdown drives against the Tide’s starters this season. Michigan scored twice with the help of long passes, while Florida Atlantic drove for a touchdown against the Tide’s reserves.
The Rebels’ first touchdown covered 13 plays and 75 yards, while the second lasted 16 plays and 70 yards. Alabama managed to avoid more damage with the help of five sacks and three interceptions.
“At times, I think we got tired on the longer drives when we couldn’t sub players because if they don’t sub, you really can’t sub because when they snap it quick, you aren’t ready,” Saban said.
Saban said the problems revealed themselves early, but the Tide eventually grew accustomed to the pace.
“We weren’t ready to play when they hit the first big touchdown on their first drive,” Saban said. “Guys were still looking at the bench trying to get a signal. We got better as coach as the game went on. I think the players got used to the pace of the game as it went on, and I think we played a little better.”
Alabama defensive back Dee Milliner said the Tide needs to clean up its approach, which he figures the Tide coaches will make a priority this week.
“There were some things we could have capitalized on that we didn’t,” said Milliner, who made an interception, broke up four passes and had a sack. “We still have got to get better. We’ve got to watch film and try to regroup.”
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