After their 13-point comeback victory over the Tennessee Volunteers last weekend, the Florida Gators are ranked for the first time since the 2013 season. Now if the Gators want to stay in the Top 25, they will have to defeat the No. 4 Ole Miss Rebels, who are considered one of the favorites to advance to the SEC Championship Game.
A couple of weeks ago, Ole Miss shocked the world by beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The Rebels looked sluggish in their win against Vanderbilt last weekend. It appears Ole Miss didn’t take the Commodores very seriously.
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Not many analyst are picking the Gators to win on Saturday. So what are the five keys for Florida to pull off the upset?
1. Slow down the Rebels during the first quarter
The one thing Ole Miss has done this season is gotten off to great starts. The Rebels have averaged 16.25 points in their four games during the first quarter.
Florida has had one of the best defenses in the first quarter this season as they are only allowing an average of 4.25 points per game in the opening stanza. If the Gators can continue to force early three and outs during the first quarter, that will give their defense more energy for the second half.
2. Convert third downs
Last week against Tennessee, Florida was 3-15 on third down conversions. While they were also 5-5 on fourth downs, they can’t rely on being perfect on fourth downs against Ole Miss.
So far this season, the Rebels’ third-down defense is 76th in the country as they have given up a first-down 37.8 percent of the time. Florida needs to make sure they can get into third and short situations, so that they have a better chance to convert on third downs.
3. Watch out for Nkemdiche
Florida has one of the youngest offensive lines in the country. While they have done a solid job protecting Grier this season, their line will be across the line from the most talented group they’ve faced this year.
Ole Miss has arguably the best defensive lineman in college football in Robert Nkemdiche. The defensive tackle is at the top of ESPN’s football analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s big board.
"Power, explosion, where he's supposed to be in gap control and not trying to make things up,” said Florida head coach Jim McElwain in his Monday afternoon press conference. “It's not as much he's a great pass rusher, but how disruptive he is in the run game.”
Nkemdiche 2015 stats won’t wow you, but his impact on the game can’t be measured by numbers. Florida will have to be aware of where Nkemdiche is at all times.
4. Kelvin Taylor
Against Tennessee, running back Kelvin Taylor rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. The junior will likely be called on again this weekend because Ole Miss doesn’t have a great run defense.
The Rebels' rushing defense ranks 60th in the nation as they give up an average of 155.5 rushing yards per game. While the Gators mostly used Taylor in their running game last week, the team could also look to use Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite in spot situations during the game.
5. Get pressure on Chad Kelly
Ole Miss’s quarterback Chad Kelly has been one of the hottest quarterbacks in the country this season. The transfer from East Mississippi Community College has thrown for 1,219 yards, 10 touchdowns against only three interceptions.
Florida is ninth in the FBS in sacks per game with 3.5. If the Gators are to slow down his production, they will have to get pressure on him with their front four. Jonathan Bullard, Alex McCalister, Brian Cox Jr., and Joey Irie will need to get to know Kelly up close and personal on Saturday.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.