No. 3 Mississippi, 25th-ranked Florida try to stay unbeaten
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida defensive end Alex McCalister sensed it across campus all week.
A smile here, a nod there. A handshake one second, a high-five the next. A brief conversation with a stranger, a lengthy exchange with a friend.
It was decidedly different, something the 25th-ranked Gators haven’t felt in years.
”We’re getting a little bit more love,” McCalister said. ”It’s supposed to be like this.”
McCalister would like to see what an even bigger victory would do for the Gators (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference). He gets a chance Saturday night when third-ranked Mississippi (4-0, 2-0) visits Florida Field for the first time in seven years.
A win would put Florida at the forefront of the conference conversation and back in the national picture. It’s no easy task, especially considering the Rebels are playing as well as anyone in the SEC and looking for a victory to squash talk about their win at Alabama two weeks ago being a fluke.
”These games test you and your team,” Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said. ”The environment tests you. When you have a quality opponent that is very well coached and very confident right now, a team that is ranked in the Top 25 right now, it is going to test you.”
Mississippi appears ready for the challenge. The Rebels beat Vanderbilt 27-16 last week, avoiding a potential letdown after knocking off the Crimson Tide for the second consecutive season.
Chad Kelly has been efficiently effective, throwing for 1,219 yards and 10 touchdowns in four games. Laquon Treadwell has been as good as advertised, catching 22 passes for 332 yards and a touchdown. And the defense, led by potential top-five draft pick Robert Nkemdiche, has been stingy and stout.
So it’s no surprise the Rebels opened as 6 1/2-point favorites on the road.
Florida, meanwhile, held on to beat East Carolina, eked out a win at Kentucky and then rallied from a 13-point deficit with less than 5 minutes remaining to defeat Tennessee for the 11th consecutive year. Still, that was enough to get Florida back in the polls for the first time in nearly two years and with the program’s first Top 25 matchup in three seasons.
”It gets us excited. You can feel it in the air,” Gators receiver Valdez Showers said. ”We’ve been sick of not being ranked and not playing Top 25 opponents and stuff like that, so we’re not taking this lightly.
”When you start winning games and get on a four-game win streak, that gives us momentum going into the fifth game and gives us a lot of confidence. You feel like you can definitely take these guys, too.”
Some other things to watch when Mississippi and Florida meet:
GRIER’S STATUS: Florida could be without quarterback Will Grier. According to a person familiar with the situation, Grier has been dealing with an illness this week and might not start. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Friday because the Gators have not disclosed Grier’s illness. If Grier doesn’t start, Treon Harris would make his second start this season. Harris was suspended last week for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
TAKEAWAYS WANTED: Ole Miss forced 10 turnovers through its first three games, including five in a 43-37 victory over Alabama. One reason the Rebels struggled so much against Vanderbilt is they didn’t force the Commodores into any turnovers. Safety Trae Elston leads Ole Miss with three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns.
TUNSIL WATCH: The Rebels have managed to win without starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who is the subject of an ongoing NCAA investigation. Freeze said Monday he was told ”a lot of progress has been made” on Tunsil’s case, but he wasn’t sure when he’d return to the field.
FLU BUG: The Gators had about a dozen players affected by a virus earlier this week. The team responded with flu shots all around, and McElwain believes ”it has run its course.”
NOT JUST TREADWELL: Treadwell gets a lot of publicity, but the Rebels have been very deep at receiver. Quincy Adeboyejo leads the team with five touchdown catches and Cody Core is averaging nearly 23 yards per reception. Sophomore Markell Pack had a breakout game against Vanderbilt with six catches for 52 yards.
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Oxford, Mississippi, contributed to this report.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org