Hawaiian QBs highlight No. 1 Alabama at Ole Miss

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Alabama sophomore linebacker Dylan Moses would like nothing better than to see an opponent line up with a standard try-to-run-the-ball offense.

He knows he won't see one this week.

Ole Miss is doing a lot more running so far this season, but it still features an up-tempo, spread offense that is about as far from a traditional I-formation attack as one can get.

"They have an explosive offense," Moses said.

"Their quarterback has a great arm on him. They have two really great running backs. The offensive line is very good. They protect their quarterback. They have a lot of greatness; they could potentially beat us. They could really beat us if we don't handle our business. We really have to come to this game prepared."

When No. 1 Alabama visits Ole Miss on Saturday, the running backs may put up some numbers, but it'll be the Hawaiian quarterbacks in the spotlight.

That's right, Hawaiian ... and more than one.

Alabama sophomore Tua Tagovailoa is from Ewa Beach outside of Honolulu, while Jordan Ta'amu hails from Pearl City, across the way from Ford Island and Pearl Harbor. The senior arrived at Ole Miss via a junior college on the mainland, New Mexico Military.

Tagovailoa is second in the nation in passing efficiency (237.2 rating), while Ta'amu is seventh (206.1).

Ta'amu is coming off a career game in which he was 23 of 33 for 448 yards and five touchdowns against Southern Illinois. An Ole Miss offense that averaged 99 seconds on its touchdown drives last year, the fastest in the nation, scored 76 points against Southern Illinois.

Granted, the Sulukis play in the Football Championship Subdivision and two of the scores were by the defense. But Ole Miss still amassed 479 passing yards, the second most in program history.

Ta'amu is working with one of the top receiving corps in the nation. It is led by A.J Brown, who tops the SEC in receptions per game (7.5) and is second in receiving yards per game (125.5), eighth nationally.

He'll be going against an Alabama secondary with all new starters, although the unit already has two interceptions for touchdowns against offensive-minded Louisville and Arkansas State. The Crimson Tide defeated those opponents by a combined score of 108-21.

However, the real surprise with the Rebels has been the running game. Junior college transfer Scott Phillips went for 204 rushing yards in his debut against Texas Tech and leads the SEC in rushing yards per game (155.5) and rushing touchdowns (four).

"I think they've changed their style of play a little bit," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. "They became a much more effective running team. Play-action passes, RPOs. And (the quarterback) does a really good job of executing."

The Ole Miss offense ranks third nationally in scoring (61.5) and eighth in total offense (596.0).

But Alabama's offense has been lights-out good as well and boasts an impressive receiving group that is eager to see how it compares to the touted Rebels.

When Tagovailoa is in the game, Alabama has scored on 10 of its 13 possessions, including nine touchdowns.

"He's got a really quick release," Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. "He has very good receivers to throw it to. Then his ability to extend plays. You watch their first touchdown against Louisville, he extended the play and made a play with his feet.

"He keeps drives going on third down by scrambling out of the pocket. His ability to extend plays, and obviously his decision making, has been good."

Alabama has also used Jalen Hurts this season, so it'll be interesting to see if Saban sticks with Tagovailoa more against a conference opponent.

The real concern for Ole Miss, though is with the defense, especially after giving up 41 points to Southern Illinois. The Rebels are last in the league in scoring defense, pass defense and total defense, and are 13th against the run.

Opponents have averaged 557.5 yards of offense, and the next worst in the SEC is Arkansas at 393.0.

Yet when Alabama visited two years ago, it had to come back from a 21-point deficit in the second quarter to pull out a 43-37 victory. In 2014-15, the Rebels pulled off back-to-back upsets of the Crimson Tide, the first resulting in fans storming the field.

"The Grove will be rocking," Luke said.

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