Ole Miss and Florida meet on Saturday night in the Swamp with momentum on their side after both programs scored key SEC wins in September. The Rebels opened conference play with a victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa but followed the win over the Crimson Tide with a sluggish performance against Vanderbilt. The Gators are coming off a last-minute win over Tennessee last Saturday and defeated Kentucky in Lexington in Week 3.
While it seems premature or even a little crazy to suggest in early October, it’s possible this game could be a preview of the SEC Championship. Ole Miss still has to play Texas A&M, LSU and Mississippi State, but only one of those games are on the road. Florida has to navigate a tough crossover (Ole Miss and LSU) and the annual trip to Jacksonville to take on Georgia. However, new coach Jim McElwain has this team headed in the right direction, and Florida still has three favorable remaining games in SEC play remaining against Vanderbilt, South Carolina.
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Ole Miss leads the all-time series over Florida at 12-10-1. The Rebels and Gators have not met since 2008 and have played just six times since 1992.
Ole Miss at Florida
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 3 at 6 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Ole Miss -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Florida’s Offensive Line
With just one returning starter and little in the way of proven depth, this unit was arguably the biggest concern for new coach Jim McElwain in the preseason. So far, the Gators have experienced their share of ups and downs in the trenches. This unit has allowed eight sacks in four games and rushers are averaging 4.3 yards per carry. While this group was tested against Kentucky and Tennessee, Ole Miss will be its toughest of the year so far. The Rebels are led by standout tackle Robert Nkemdiche up front and rank fifth in the SEC with 28 tackles for a loss after four games. Additionally, Ole Miss is limiting opponents to just 3.6 yards per carry. Can Florida establish the line of scrimmage and generate a ground attack to keep the pressure off of quarterback Will Grier? In two SEC games, the Gators managed only 229 yards on 65 carries. Putting Grier in third-and-long situations is not ideal, which means the offensive line needs to generate a push for running back Kelvin Taylor and keep the down and distance into manageable situations for the redshirt freshman quarterback.
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2. Chad Kelly vs. Will Grier
Ole Miss and Florida entered the 2015 season with uncertainty surrounding its quarterbacks, but both programs should be feeling better about their signal-callers after the first four weeks of the season. Kelly passed for 341 yards and three scores in the road win over Alabama and has 1,219 yards and 10 touchdowns so far in 2015. Grier didn’t started the first game of the season, but he played extensively in the win over New Mexico State and seems to have a secure hold on the top spot. Sophomore Treon Harris could play against Ole Miss, but Grier seems to be putting some distance between the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on the depth chart. Grier stepped up in the clutch last Saturday with the game on the line against Tennessee and has 725 yards and six scores through the first four games. Both quarterbacks will be throwing against talented defensive backfields. Which will make the fewest amount of mistakes or generate the most big plays?
3. Florida’s Defensive Backs Against Ole Miss Receivers
It’s a matchup of strength on strength when Florida’s defensive backs are going against a deep corps of Ole Miss receivers. The Gators are led by standout junior Vernon Hargreaves III at cornerback, while Jalen Tabor returns from a one-game suspension to team with Quincy Wilson on the opposite side. This group has limited opponents to just 193.3 passing yards per game through four weeks and has allowed just one touchdown through the air in two SEC games. However, those numbers will be tested by Kelly and receivers Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core, Quincy Adeboyejo and tight end Evan Engram. Treadwell is the top player out of this group, but Core and Adeboyejo are averaging just over 22 yards per catch. Which group will win out on Saturday night? Florida’s defensive backs are capable of limiting big plays from the Rebels’ passing attack, but this unit also needs help from the pass rush.
Ole Miss should be eager to rebound from a sluggish performance against Vanderbilt. However, this one in the Swamp won’t be easy. The Rebels have an edge up front, which should allow the defense to generate pressure on Florida quarterback Will Grier and put the redshirt freshman into a few third-and-long situations. When Ole Miss has the ball, quarterback Chad Kelly and the receiving corps will test the Gators’ secondary. However, just like Florida, the Rebels have to protect their quarterback, as well as establish the threat of the ground attack. McElwain has this program trending in the right direction, but the Rebels are deeper and more talented at this point.