Alabama-Ole Miss football: How does Nick Saban expect Lane Kiffin to use John Rhys Plumlee?

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

Last year, Ole Miss blindsided Alabama in personnel and scheme. Ole Miss came to Tuscaloosa with a freshman quarterback, John Rhys Plumlee, who had just three rushes and seven pass attempts in his first four games.

In the Crimson Tide's 59-31 win, Plumlee attempted 28 passes and, more importantly, ran 25 times for 109 yards and a touchdown.

Now, Alabama is well aware of Plumlee. There’s still no telling how he will be used on Saturday.

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin has tried to strike a balance in handing the offense over to Matt Corral, the more advanced passer of the two, while incorporating Plumlee at wide receiver, running back and quarterback.

In 2019, the game plan quickly became clear. Of Ole Miss’ 49 designed runs with Plumlee on the field, he had 16 of them — eight draws, four leads, two powers and two options with a toss attached, which Plumlee kept both times. With Plumlee operating in positions other than quarterback, such schemes were almost nonexistent in Ole Miss’ first two games under Kiffin.

Plumlee has nine carries for 20 yards, a 6-yard reception and one completion for 3 yards. But he has been on the field consistently, giving him a chance at statistical explosion similar to the one he had against UA last year.

The aspect of Plumlee that has UA coach Nick Saban most on edge is the passing ability.

“Well I think you have to respect the guy because he's such a good athlete, but he also played quarterback a lot last year, and he's very capable of throwing the ball, so you can't really say he's just a Wildcat guy when he's playing quarterback,” Saban said. “They use him as a wide receiver, they use him as a running back. We've just got to categorize him relative to what he's playing and try to play the plays, and he's a very capable guy and very good athlete. We have to respect his ability to throw the ball because when we played against him last year and he was very effective as passer.”

Under Kiffin, the rushing attack has resembled the more common spread option schemes he used at Alabama. Plumlee as a motion man for runs and passes adds tricky wrinkles for defenses to digest on the fly, but the scheme is not as diverse as it was last season.

That has not stopped it from being effective. Against two of the better defensive fronts in the SEC (Florida and Kentucky), running back Jerrion Ealy has averaged 4.73 yards per carry, running for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Corral has 101 rushing yards despite being sacked six times for a loss of 39 yards.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson