Mississippi's Matt Corral appears to have put that offseason quarterback battle firmly into his rear view mirror. No real challenge ever materialized for Alabama's Mac Jones.
Now, they're directing two of the nation's most prolific and efficient passing games so far heading into Saturday night's meeting in Oxford, Mississippi. On Thursday, kickoff was pushed back 90 minutes in hopes of better weather amid Hurricane Delta.
“Who would have thought these two quarterbacks would be first and second in quarterback efficiency?” first-year Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said.
Corral, who emerged from a competition with John Rhys Plumlee, has thrived in Kiffin’s offense.
He ranks third nationally in both pass efficiency and passing yards per game. Jones is the top-rated passer and ranks fourth in yards.
Maybe bad weather could do what opposing defenses haven't been able to: Slow down Corral, Jones and their collection of playmaking receivers.
While Corral fought off Plumlee, Jones didn't really get a challenge from heralded freshman Bryce Young, especially with no spring practice because of COVID-19.
Instead, the Tide offense hasn't missed a beat without star passer Tua Tagovailoa.
Corral has been freely targeting Elijah Moore, the nation's leading receiver, and tight end Kenny Yeboah, with Jonathan Mingo coming off a career game against Kentucky.
Jones has the nation's No. 2 receiver Jaylen Waddle, plus DeVonta Smith and John Metchie III.
“They’re like a track team back there," Ole Miss cornerback Deane Leonard said. “They’re fast, they’re agile. They can really do it all.”
PREPPING FOR RAIN
The teams have prepared for the prospect of playing in bad weather by using wet footballs.
“That’s all we can do to prepare for it. We can’t make it rain,” Saban said. “I think handling the ball is the most important thing, but I also think it’s important to have a mind-set of getting used to handling the ball so it’s not an issue when you’re playing a game.”
Tailbacks Najee Harris of Alabama and Ole Miss’s Jerrion Ealy are both off to relatively slow starts while the respective passing games have soared. Both are averaging less than 5 yards per carry, though Harris has run for five short touchdowns.
If the weather is rainy and windy, that could lead to more reliance on the run for both teams.
Kiffin is the latest former Saban assistant to face him as a head coach. He scoffs at any notion that he might gain an edge from that familiarity, and the numbers back him up strongly. Saban has won all 20 times in that situation.
“You’re not a very good gambler if that’s what you’re saying because 20-0 is a pretty strong record,” Kiffin said.
He’s the second of four straight ex-Saban underlings facing their former boss: Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, Kiffin, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt.
The game will feature several players from Canada: Rebels linebacker Tavius Robinson and Leonard and Alabama's Metchie. Leonard and Metchie could square off against each other at times.
“I think it’ll be really cool two guys from Canada doing it on the big stage,” Leonard said. “Yeah, it’ll be really cool seeing him out there.”
Ole Miss has pulled off some upsets against the Tide, including wins in 2014 and 2015. But in the four meetings since then the Tide has averaged 58.8 points with only one being competitive.
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