No. 2 Alabama, after giving up 324 yards through the air last week at South Carolina, will face one of the nation’s top passing attacks when it hosts Southern Mississippi on Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Golden Eagles (2-1) threw for 514 yards in their win over Troy last week and are averaging 347 passing yards per game — 12th nationally.
Quarterback Jack Abraham has completed 71.1 percent of his passes for 990 yards, and USM has three receivers with more 200 yards, including All-Conference USA candidate Quez Watkins, who got all of his in one game. He missed the first two games while suspended before snagging seven passes for 209 yards in his 2019 debut last week.
Jaylond Adams has 18 catches for 257 yards; Jordan Mitchell has 16 for 295.
The key to their success is simple, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said.
“It’s because they’ve got good skill players and got a good scheme,” Saban said. “They throw the ball all over the perimeter and make you play in space all the time.”
Eagles coach Jay Hopson calls Adams and Watkins the best tandem he has had in his four seasons at USM.
“But there are five or six guys out there who are dangerous guys,” Hopson said. “We might have seven. That’s a good thing to have offensively. We have plenty more that can go to the house.”
Alabama (3-0) is giving up an average of only 194 passing yards per game, but will be without one of its top pass rushers with defensive end LaBryan Ray out with a foot injury.
“We’re doing some further testing to see what the situation is with his foot,” Saban said, “but it is undetermined right now how long he will be out.”
True freshman Justin Eboigbe has been listed as Ray’s backup. He could become the second true freshman on the Tide defensive front, joining nose guard DJ Dale.
Saban said he saw all-around improvement in the 47-23 victory over South Carolina, but penalties are an issue. Alabama is tied for 102nd nationally (7.67 penalties per game) after being flagged 11 times for 92 yards at South Carolina. The Gamecocks declined one penalty, and a second penalty on the same play negated another.
Three penalties were for false starts on offense, two for substitution infractions on defense.
“We shot ourselves in the foot on both sides of the ball,” Saban said.
Still, the Tide were able to amass 571 yards in offense, mostly on the passing of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (28 of 36 for 444 yards and five touchdowns). Running back Najee Harris and receiver DeVonta Smith each had a pair of touchdown receptions.
The Tide’s running game netted only 76 yards, but that followed a 318-yard effort in the 62-10 rout of overmatched New Mexico State. For the season, Alabama is averaging 179.7 yards per game rushing.
Tagovailoa, a junior, is closing on the school record for career touchdown responsibility. He is at 74 (66 passing, eight rushing), just six behind leader AJ McCarron, who was responsible for 80 scores (77 passing, three rushing) from 2010-13.
“We’ve got to make sure we play great in all phases — offensively, defensively and special teams,” USM’s Hopson said. “It’s no secret we’re playing an outstanding football team, a great football team.”
—Field Level Media