Time to clear the air.
Ole Miss, statistically, is the No. 1 passing team in the SEC. It boasts a conference-high average of 427 yards per game, has thrown the most touchdown passes with 11 – despite only playing three games, when most of the league has played four —
and owns the best completion percentage at 70.5. Nationally, its pass offense is rated fourth.
“To be honest with you, we do get a lot more excited when we think they’re going to pass the ball,” Alabama defensive back Hootie Jones said. “But at the same time, the D-line, they’re a little pissed off because they want them to run the ball so they can stop it.”
Which is fair, but the Rebels’ ground attack is last in the conference with a 69.7 rushing yards average. They’re second to last in the nation.
So, the focus this week is obvious.
“(The Rebels) make a lot of explosive plays,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Really good quarterback. Probably the best group of receivers collectively we’ve played against all year.”
Shea Patterson is at the helm of Ole Miss this season. As a sophomore, he has completed 86 of his 122 passes for 1,281 yards. He has thrown the 11 touchdowns but also four interceptions. Patterson’s top targets are wide receivers A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge.
The last Alabama player to intercept an Ole Miss pass was defensive back Eddie Jackson, who’s now with the Chicago Bears, in 2013.
At the same time, Alabama hasn’t had a pick-less game since its loss to Clemson for the national championship. That was at a neutral site. The Chattanooga matchup last November marked Alabama’s most recent home game without an interception.
“That’s just practice, that’s how we practice,” Alabama defensive back Anthony Averett said. “We all try to be ball hawks. Everybody’s trying to get tips. Tips and ball hawks. Just get tipped balls, interceptions. Just run to the ball. Good things happen when that happens.”
A conference-best six interceptions would qualify as a good thing.
Members of the Crimson Tide who have snagged a pass so far are Averett, Jones, Mack Wilson, Levi Wallace and Ronnie Harrison, the only one with multiple. All of them play in the secondary besides Wilson, who’s a linebacker. Jones’ pick was actually sandwiched between Harrison’s two, almost as if they’re taking turns.
“Something like that,” Jones said. “We text each other every other night like, ‘I’m going to have this interception’ or ‘I’m going to have this many interceptions.’”
Alabama’s opponents average 177.8 passing yards per game this season. That’s less than half of Ole Miss’ mark. That also places the Crimson Tide seventh in the SEC for pass defense. Alabama has allowed teams to complete 54.5 percent of their passes.
One more thing: The last time the Rebels visited Bryant-Denny Stadium, the Crimson Tide didn’t make a pick and it lost.
“Of course we take that personally,” Averett said. “We don’t want anybody to take over the game, you know how that goes.”