Alabama secondary to be tested by Ole Miss

Alabama football coach Nick Saban is going to rely heavily on senior cornerback Cyrus Jones on Saturday night when the Crimson Tide host explosive Ole Miss.

With a deep and versatile front and the talented likes of Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster at linebacker, Alabama's chief question defensively entering this season centered on its secondary.

There has been good and bad with the defensive backs through two games, and the truest test yet for the nationally second-ranked Crimson Tide takes place Saturday when No. 15 Ole Miss invades Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Rebels have scored 21 touchdowns already, including 18 on offense.

"They like to go fast and line up quick," Tide senior cornerback Cyrus Jones said this week in a news conference. "They're going to run a lot of plays. We're definitely going to have to be on our toes for this game.

"Our defense has to get off the field."

The rematch of last year's 23-17 Ole Miss upset triumph in Oxford will be televised by ESPN at 9:15 EDT. The Rebels never have defeated Alabama two years in a row.

"It's daunting to beat them one time, much less back to back," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said.

Ole Miss enters Tuscaloosa averaging 74.5 points and 634.5 yards per game after thrashings of UT-Martin (76-3) and Fresno State (73-21). The Rebels lead the Southeastern Conference in rushing offense behind a stable of backs headed by Jaylen Walton (51.5 yards per game), Eugene Bradley (51.0), Akeem Judd (43.0) and Jordan Wilkins (40.5).

The Rebels are second in the league in passing, averaging 358 yards a game and compiling nine aerial touchdowns. Laquon Treadwell (nine catches for 117 yards), Cody Core (8-176) and Quincy Adeboyejo (8-153) are the favorite targets for new quarterback Chad Kelly, with Treadwell a former five-star recruit who has been projected as a top-10 pick in the 2016 NFL draft.

"He's a big receiver who's very physical, so it's going to be a big challenge," Jones said. "I'm looking forward to it."

Jones, a 5-foot-10, 196-pound senior from Baltimore, will be giving up four inches to Treadwell but repeatedly has proven he's not one to shy away from competition. Having played 38 games for the Tide, Jones has a knack for coming up big in big games, breaking up LSU's fourth-down pass in overtime to secure a 20-13 win in Baton Rouge last November and intercepting Dak Prescott a week later in Tuscaloosa to help clinch a 25-20 win over Mississippi State.

In last week's 37-10 win over Middle Tennessee State, Jones collected his sixth career interception.

"I thought Cyrus played the most consistently for us last year," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "He's played very well so far for us this year. I think he has a good understanding of what we expect from him, and he sets a good example in terms of how he works and what he does.

"That's been a positive for us with some of the younger guys in the group."

Alabama has plenty of experience in the secondary to help combat the explosive Rebels. Geno Smith and Bradley Sylve also are seniors, while Eddie Jackson and Maurice Smith are juniors.

Jackson had an interception in the opening win over Wisconsin.

The Crimson Tide also have youth in the secondary, most notably true freshman Minkah Fitzpatrick and redshirt freshman Marlon Humphrey. Fitzpatrick made his first start in last week's win over the Blue Raiders.

"Minkah is doing a good job for us, and he's a good football player," Saban said. "He's only going to get better, better and better as he gets more experience. We're excited about where he is, and we're hopeful he's going to continue to improve and continue to develop to be a real staple in our defense."

Alabama yielded 228 passing yards to Wisconsin and 189 to MTSU for an average of 208.5, which ranks seventh in the SEC. The Crimson Tide are allowing just 63.0 rushing yards and 271.5 total yards, ranking among the league's top four in each category, but will those numbers look as stout this time next week?

Ole Miss, after all, is the first team ever to enter Bryant-Denny averaging 74.5 points per game.

"They have really good skill players outside, and a really good running game to go with it," Saban said. "They've just done a fantastic job of executing that offense."

Contact David Paschall at [email protected] or 423-757-6524.