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September 30, 2012

Nickel package stifles Ole Miss offense

TUSCALOOSA | The Ole Miss hurry-up offense hurriedly put its team in an insurmountable hole Saturday night as the University of Alabama barreled through its fifth consecutive opponent, 33-14.

Ole Miss interceptions on three consecutive series in the first half - corralled by UA defensive backs Dee Milliner, Robert Lester and Deion Belue, respectively - helped set up the points that boosted the Crimson Tide to a 27-7 halftime lead.

"I think that was the turning point in the game, because we really only put one true drive together, and those turnovers were really the difference in the game," UA coach Nick Saban said. "Turnovers are always that way. ... We finished those drives when we got those interceptions, so that was a good thing."

The Alabama coaching staff's personnel choice to combat the no-huddle offense was the nickel set it has relied on heavily since Saban's arrival in 2007. On Saturday, the five-defensive back package was on the field almost exclusively.

For the most part, it delivered.

And it was no surprise.

More than once in the annals of Saban's responses to questions about the nickel defense, the coach has noted the nickel is most versatile in its ability to adjust to all sorts of formations and personnel groupings. So what better way to defend a no-huddle attack, when defensive substitutions can't always get on the field, than to use the defensive package that can hold its own against just about anything it sees?

"A lot of calls put us in good situations tonight, and coach (Kirby) Smart really made sure we knew (how) we were lining up on certain things," safety Vinnie Sunseri said. "Because they work on no-huddle, they're good at no-huddle, and we had to be ready to go at all times."

Credit the Rebels for stubbornly sticking with the style that carried them into Bryant-Denny Stadium with a 3-1 record and averaging 36.8 points per game. In doing so, new Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has done more to establish the no-huddle pace as part of his program's identity in losing to both Texas and Alabama than in any of the Rebels' three wins.

It wasn't overly successful, but it was unflinching.

And just because the scoreboard indicated another strong night for the Crimson Tide defense doesn't mean the Rebels no-huddle approach wasn't without flashes of success.

Its first big play of the game was a 31-yard completion to sophomore Donte Moncrief in the first half that helped set up the Rebels' early touchdown. On the play, several UA players were looking to the sideline trying to read a signal from defensive coordinator Smart up until the snap of the ball. With UA a bit unsettled in its adjustments, Ole Miss took advantage with a deep strike to its most dangerous offensive player.

There were other offensive spurts by Ole Miss consisting of a few consecutive first downs, but most often, the UA defense would find a way to stiffen and keep points off the scoreboard.

The first time Ole Miss substituted on offense, Alabama countered with different personnel as well, but remained in a five-defensive back package. The outcome was the most well-sustained offensive attack Alabama has battled all season, albeit garnering only 14 points.

Bottom line, the no-huddle offense was a test the Crimson Tide passed. But the Rebels did enough offensively that it won't be surprising if a couple future UA opponents try their hand at the same approach.



Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.


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