It has been a while since Florida and Ole Miss met on the football field.
The last time the Gators and Rebels faced off was in 2008 when an unranked Ole Miss team upset No. 4 Florida and Tim Tebow in the Swamp. Since then, Ole Miss has improved … a lot.
We brought in the Daily Journal’s Parrish Alford, who covers Ole Miss, to answer some questions on the Rebels. Make sure to follow Parrish (@parrishalford) for info on No. 3 Ole Miss leading up to Saturday’s game against the No. 25 Gators (7 p.m., ESPN).
1. How much of a surprise has quarterback Chad Kelly been? Or was this expected from him when he enrolled at Ole Miss in January?
Parrish: A little bit of a surprise. You knew of Chad’s ability through his recruiting coverage and his junior college success. That doesn’t always translate into quick success in the SEC. In his case, what we’ve heard is true. He’s shown a lot of poise in the pocket and has usually made good decisions. That changed a little bit against Vanderbilt, but there was a lot of shuffling on the offensive line that contributed to that. Ole Miss is healthier on the line this week, but some guys are still playing hurt. Through the first three games, Chad was accurate and made vertical passing relevant in the Ole Miss plan again.
2. Ole Miss is ranked second nationally in scoring offense with 54.8 points per game. What is the key, if any, to limiting the unit?
Parrish: The key I think would be rattling Kelly, but aside from a first half at Alabama, his first time on that kind of stage, no one’s done that. When he settled down he threw for 305 in the second half. The receivers are a very talented group, more than just Laquon Treadwell. Ole Miss is improved in the run game, but it’s not a big priority early in games. They’ve had big runs late in games the last two weeks. If you can guard the receivers that’s another big key. So far depth at the position has been big for Ole Miss.
3. Everybody knows about quarterback Chad Kelly and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, but who is one Ole Miss player who doesn’t get the same attention that Florida needs to pay attention to?
Parrish: Evan Engram. He’s a preseason All-American tight end, but with the deep balls Ole Miss has thrown his catch numbers are down. The last two games Hugh Freeze has seemed intent on getting Engram more involved. I know Florida is missing a good cover linebacker, and that could be an advantage for Ole Miss. Engram is extremely athletic.
4. What was Vanderbilt able to do against the Rebels to keep it close last week?
Parrish: First, Vanderbilt is much improved. The combination of coming off the Alabama game with the fact that Vanderbilt offered no resistance against Ole Miss last year played into a lack of focus for Ole Miss. I thought the Rebels would break out of that round about the end of the second quarter, but they never did. Vanderbilt is much better defensively and made things tough against Ole Miss in the red zone — VU was ranked No. 7 in red zone defense going into the game — and on third downs.
5. Jim McElwain said this week that Ole Miss “figures they should beat the heck out of us.” Do you think the Rebels are taking the Gators lightly or is this just a motivation tactic for Gators players?
Parrish: That was a comment from McElwain that surprised us during Freeze’s Monday presser. Someone was monitoring McElwain’s presser and asked Freeze about that comment. Freeze kind of blew it off as coach speak and suggested it was Mac motivating players. I think that’s true. I’ve not seen or heard anything from Ole Miss players that indicates a lack of respect or the idea that this game will be easy. Ole Miss has had success in recent visits to Gainesville, but those games have not been easy.