Ole Miss and Florida will square off for the first time since an unranked Rebels squad went into The Swamp and upset No. 4 Florida in 2008 — an outcome that lead to Tim Tebow’s well-known “work harder” speech.
This time, however, Ole Miss will head to Gainesville, Fla., as the favorite over an emerging Florida team.
Here’s everything you need to know leading up to Saturday’s game.
No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels (4-0, 2-0 SEC) at No. 25 Florida Gators (4-0, 2-0) Kickoff: 7:00 p.m., ET, ESPN
Weather: High – 79 degrees, Low – 61 degrees; partly cloudy, zero percent chance of rain
Line: Ole Miss -7.5 (according to Westgate Superbook)
By The Numbers
55 – The average number of points scored per game by Ole Miss in 2015. The Rebels are No. 2 in the nation in scoring through four games, but only managed to score 27 points last Saturday against a 1-3 Vanderbilt team. Ole Miss boasts a potent passing attack with quarterback Chad Kelly and receivers Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo. It will have its hands full against a formidable Florida defense, which brings us to the next number.
83 – Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs threw for only 83 yards in last Saturday’s loss to Florida. Including two trick plays, the Vols gained 165 yards in the air against the Gators. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III will be Florida’s answer for Treadwell as the two renew a rivalry that began as recruits in the 2013 Under Armour Game. Not to be discounted is the return of cornerback Jalen Tabor, who has a penchant for the big play. Saturday certainly looks like a case of strength against strength.
4 – Saturday will be freshman quarterback Will Grier‘s fourth start for Florida, but undoubtedly his biggest. Grier has been decent as the starter: 46 of 81 passing for 559 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Something may have clicked for Grier late in the game against Tennesse, however. He completed 11 of his 18 passes on Florida’s final two drives for 141 yards and two touchdowns, completing the Gators’ comeback win over Tennessee. Grier will face a much tougher task on Saturday, as Ole Miss has one of the top scoring defenses in the nation.
5 – The number of Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. In his third season with the Rebels, Nkemdiche has gone from the nation’s No. 1 prospect out of high school to defensive force. Against Alabama, Nkemdiche was constantly in the Crimson Tide’s backfield wreaking havoc. The stats don’t do Nkemdiche justice (only one half-sack on the season). He has created problems for opposing offenses and can affect the game on any snap. And in case he wasn’t troublesome enough on defense, he has also made a play or two for the Ole Miss offense this season.
Storylines to watch
Which defense is better?
Each teams’ defense plays with swagger and confidence. Florida relies on a strong pass rush and a ball-hawking secondary to force opposing offenses to become one-dimensional. Ole Miss has a fast and physical front seven that is used to controlling the line of scrimmage and stopping plays before they start. Saturday’s game may not be a low-scoring slog, but expect each defense to make its fair share of plays.
Quarterback of the future?
Kelly had a coming-out party of sorts against Alabama on national television, but Saturday is Grier’s chance to do the same. If Grier did, in fact, find another gear late in the game against Tennessee, then he needs to tap into that for four quarters against Ole Miss. Grier was a highly-rated prospect coming out of high school, and Saturday is his chance to emerge as the first star quarterback for Florida since that Tim Tebow guy.
During Florida’s national title runs, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was one of the most formidable sites in all of college football. Unfortunately for Florida fans, there hasn’t been much to cheer for over the past few seasons. Saturday’s game is one of the first games that fans in Gainesville have had to get excited about in a while, and The Swamp should be as loud as ever. The Gators may be able to ride that wave of excitement to an early lead.
Prediction: Ole Miss 34, Florida 27
Florida may very well jump out to an early lead over Ole Miss, but there is something to be said about learning how to win in big games. Beginning last season, the Rebels have played in their fair share of big games and shouldn’t be flustered by the magnitude of Saturday’s game. The same can’t be said about this Florida team. Last week’s dramatic comeback was a great moment for the Gators under Jim McElwain, and there will be plenty more to come, but don’t expect Ole Miss to fold under the pressure of the moment.