You might have noticed the Ole Miss Rebels scored 71 points last week and are averaging more than 60 points per game, third-best in the nation.

Perhaps you also saw the Rebels gave up 41 points to Southern Illinois last weekend and are allowing 34 per game, which ranks 108th nationally.

Ole Miss hosts a top-ranked Alabama team Saturday that is scoring 54 points per outing itself. While there’s been a lot of talk about how the Rebels’ passing game will challenge the Crimson Tide defense this week, Ole Miss coach Matt Luke has also had to concern himself with the flip side of the matchup – how to contain, or at least slow down, Alabama and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

“I think it starts with all the tools he has around him – good offensive line, good wide receivers, good backs, obviously good coaches – and then him making good decisions,” Luke said. “I think that’s very impressive to see is the decision-making and for him, when it does break down he’s able to extend the play with his feet, keep his eyes downfield and keep his composure.

“For a young quarterback that’s pretty special.”

Alabama coach Nick Saban has been outspoken about his disdain for plays that are known as RPOs – run-pass options, which are difficult to stop because downfield defenders can’t be sure whether to play run or pass. Ole Miss runs a lot of them.

“We’ll face every form of RPOs that there are in the history of ball this week against Ole Miss,” Saban said this week, also noting that UA has incorporated the play form in its offense.

Luke says that’s a major difference he’s seen in scouting the Crimson Tide.

“You see a few more of the RPO game coming in more 11 personnel (three wide receivers) instead of 12 (two tight ends and a running back),” the Ole Miss coach said. “And you notice the speed of the wideouts, it’s very evident, and the vertical passing game stretching the field.

“It definitely puts a lot of pressure on you because you know you have to stop the run with that added dimension that makes it very, very tough.”

So is there anything the Ole Miss defense can do to keep Alabama from running away with the game, or will the Rebels just have to hope they can keep pace in a shootout?

“We’ve talked about that all week, third downs will be key on both sides for us to keep it away from them some and then obviously when we have a chance to get off the field we have to be able to do that,” Luke said. “Third downs will be a key stat, along with explosive plays and turnovers.”

Reach Tommy Deas at tommy@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0224.

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