Alabama has wide receivers DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. But Ole Miss has a three-headed monster of its own in A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge and D.K. Metcalf. And that triplet is the reason Ole Miss stakes claim as the only team in the nation with three returners who had at least seven receiving touchdowns last season.
“These are three NFL-caliber guys,” UA defensive back Deionte Thompson said. “They stretch the field at any time, and they have a good quarterback to go along with that trio, so that’s something we’re going to have to be prepared for.”
Brown leads Ole Miss with 15 catches for 251 yards. He has 75 more receiving yards than Smith, Alabama’s top receiver. Metcalf and Lodge have 174 and 96 yards, respectively.
There’s also a fourth wide receiver the Crimson Tide needs to consider: Braylon Sanders is actually the Rebels’ second-leading receiver right now, with eight receptions for 193 yards.
The person dishing out all these passes is quarterback Jordan Ta’amu. He has completed 69 percent of his passes so far for 784 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s ranked No. 1 in the SEC and No. 2 nationally with an average of 392 passing yards per game.
“The RPOs (run-pass options) make it important that the DBs understand that there’s not really just running plays, there are almost passing plays on every running play,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. “So they have to guard the receivers all the time. You have to be able to play really well on the perimeter.”
He’s saying this, remember, about a secondary that lost all of its starters from last season. Thompson is the closest thing Alabama has to seasoned veteran since he started in the two College Football Playoff games.
The defense is still finding its footing but has made progress – it allowed 252 passing yards in Alabama’s first game, then 218 in its second.
“I’m confident in all of my guys, if it was Week 1 or Week 2,” Thompson said. “I just feel like we have to know the challenges coming up like we do now where we’re the challenged.”
Between its first two games, Ole Miss put up 123 points. It has scored 16 touchdowns.
“It’s up to our defense to stop them,” Smith said. “We’re just focusing on our offense and how we can put points up.”
Matt Luke is in his first official season as the Rebels’ head coach. He was the interim coach last year, but now it’s the real deal.
Also new, for the most part, is Ta’amu. He played in eight games last season, starting in the final five. Shea Patterson was originally the guy for Ole Miss before he sustained a season-ending injury in late October and then ultimately announced he was transferring a couple months later. He now plays at Michigan.
So, it’s a different Ole Miss offense from a year ago, and Saban noted it’s “really, really good.”
“Eventually you have to cover,” Saban said. “Eventually you have to play the ball. Eventually you have to affect the quarterback.
“I think you have to play good team defense all the way around if you’re going to play well against this quality quarterback, this quality group of receivers and their ability to create balance by running the ball.”
Reach Terrin Waack at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.