Ole Miss Rebels at Florida Gators game preview
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida-Ole Miss game has been on the radar since mid-July at the Southeastern Conference Media Days.
The chatter three months ago focused on the looming matchup between Florida All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and Rebels All-American receiver Laquon Treadwell.
With both teams 4-0 entering Saturday’s game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the storylines have expanded. Florida is attempting to climb back toward the top of the SEC under first-year head coach Jim McElwain. The recharged Rebels, under the direction of fourth-year head coach Hugh Freeze, have an SEC Championship and berth in the College Football Playoff on their mind.
Still, matchups always play an important role in big games and the Florida secondary against Mississippi’s receivers is difficult to ignore in this one.
"Our secondary, I think this will be a great challenge for them," McElwain said. "They’re going against these big, tall, fast wide receivers. We’ll see how they handle that. That should be a fun matchup in this game."
The 6-foot-2 Treadwell leads Ole Miss with 22 catches and has capable partners in the Ole Miss passing game in receivers Quincy Adeboyejo (6-3, 195), Cody Core (6-3, 205) and tight end Evan Engram (6-3, 227).
Meanwhile, Florida has arguably the country’s most talented and deep secondary, led by Hargreaves, nickel Brian Poole, and safeties Keanu Neal and Marcus Maye.
The Hargreaves-Treadwell battle is certainly one to watch Saturday.
Sophomore cornerback Quincy Wilson summed up the matchup succinctly.
"They’ve got the receivers. We’ve got the DBs," he said.
To help you get ready, here is an in-depth look at Saturday’s game:
— The Gators re-entered the national conversation with their victory over Tennessee — and the way they did it. The offense won a game for a change instead of the defense having to do most of the heavy lifting. Florida escaped September unblemished. By the end of October we will know much more about this team, starting with Saturday’s game against the No. 3-ranked Rebels.
— Redshirt freshman Will Grier directed the comeback against Tennessee to finish with a career-high 283 yards passing and two touchdowns. Gators head coach Jim McElwain said Grier will start against Ole Miss but that sophomore Treon Harris, back from a one-game suspension, could factor into the plans, too. In other words, the Gators are keeping their options open like they did in the season’s first three games.
— The Florida defensive line has been superb at causing disruption and took Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles out of his game two weeks ago. Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs hurt Florida with his legs, but to beat Ole Miss, the Gators will need to make Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly, a traditional drop-back passer like Towles, uncomfortable in the pocket. And Florida’s defensive front will be challenged to do that against one of the nation’s most experienced offensive lines.
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
— Will Grier played the best of his young career in the fourth quarter against Tennessee. He completed 11 of 18 passes and two touchdowns, including 5-for-5 for 143 yards on fourth down. Can Grier carry the confidence he developed from the performance into Saturday’s game against Ole Miss?
— A transfer from Clemson, Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly leads the SEC in passing with 1,219 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions in the first four games. Kelly has an excellent grasp of the offense and in the biggest game of his career to date, threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns in a 43-37 victory at Alabama two weeks ago.
— Mississippi junior defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, listed at 6-foot-4, 296 pounds, fits the true definition of an athletic freak. Nkemdiche is an explosive player on the line of scrimmage and has also played snaps on offense, scoring three touchdowns (two rushing, one passing). Florida’s young offensive line will be tested against the top recruit in the country in 2013.
THE QUOTE FILE
— "They got athletes everywhere. The tight end is a great athlete, all their receivers are good athletes, the quarterback has got deceptive athleticism. We have to get back to tackling. I know they seen all the missed tackles on film. They are licking their lips right now." — Gators linebacker Antonio Morrison on the Rebels’ offensive firepower
— "There’s two things that go into it: how do you handle adversity and how do you handle success? This will be interesting. It’s always a learning experience." — Florida coach Jim McElwain on his team keeping a level head after defeating Tennessee in dramatic fashion
— "He may use those words to motive his players, but we certainly have a lot of regard for Florida. They are playing extremely well." — Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze when asked about McElwain’s comment about the Gators playing a team that "is going to come in here and figure that they should beat the heck out of us."
— "We know we’re the hunted now. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot." — Ole Miss linebacker C.J. Johnson
— "They like to talk a lot. I see it on film. But every team we play, they like to talk trash to us so we don’t pay it no mind. We just gotta come out and do our jobs." — Florida receiver Brandon Powell on facing the Rebels
The Gators were hit by a flu bug early in the week that forced more than 10 players to sit out. McElwain seemed optimistic about the team’s health during his Wednesday evening press conference.
McElwain said redshirt freshman tight end C’yontai Lewis (hand) practiced this week and hoped to be fitted for a soft cast Thursday that would allow him to play. Linebacker Alex Anzalone (shoulder) will miss his third consecutive game. Linebacker Jeremi Powell (foot) remains questionable and running back Case Harrison (thumb) is out.
Meanwhile, kicker Austin Hardin (leg), receiver C.J. Worton (leg), offensive lineman Travaris Dorsey (undisclosed) and offensive lineman Trip Thurman (chronic shoulder) are nursing injuries according to McElwain.
The fourth-quarter comeback against Tennessee is one Florida fans will talk about for years. Down 13, the Gators scored twice in final quarter to defeat the Vols, 28-27. It was Florida’s largest fourth-quarter comeback at home in 29 years. If you don’t remember when Florida Field was turf, or when quarterback Kerwin Bell was star of the show, here is a replay of the final moments of an 18-17 victory against Auburn in 1986. The Gators trailed 17-0 entering the fourth quarter:
10 QUICK HITTERS
— The Gators seek their first home win against the Rebels since a 28-10 victory at Florida Field in 1995. Ole Miss leads the all-time series 12-10-1, including 6-3-1 in Gainesville.
— Gators sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor, who served a one-game suspension last week, returns to the lineup. In three games, Tabor has defended five passes (four break-ups, one interception), which is tops in the SEC in average per game (1.67).
— Ole Miss senior safety Trae Elston is tied for the national lead with three interceptions. He has returned two for touchdowns, including a 93-yarder.
— The Gators returned to the national polls this week, ranked 25th in the AP poll, ending a streak of 29 consecutive weeks without being ranked. That was UF’s longest drought in the AP poll since a 40-week stretch from 1977-80.
— Florida head coach Jim McElwain is trying to become the first UF coach to start inaugural season 5-0 since Steve Spurrier in 1990.
— Redshirt freshman walk-on kicker Jorge Powell is expected to handle the kicking duties again for the Gators. Powell was 4-for-4 on PATs against Tennessee and did not try a field goal.
— Florida leads the country on fourth-down attempts, converting 10 of 10; Ole Miss leads the SEC in fourth-down defense, stopping 8 of 10 attempts.
— Florida has 14 sacks through four games, nearly half of its total (30) from last season. Senior defensive lineman Jon Bullard leads the way with a team-high four.
— Mississippi’s No. 3 ranking in the AP poll matches its best ranking since 1964.
— Ole Miss is 33-34 all-time against SEC East teams since the conference split into divisions in 1992.
THE OTHER SIDE
Ole Miss is off to a 4-0 start for the second consecutive season, something that hasn’t happened in Oxford since 1961-62. The excitement around the Rebels is real and the school’s official website — OleMissSports.com — documents the team each week in a series titled "The Season." Here is an inside look at the Rebels’ victory over Vanderbilt a week ago:
The Gators are underdogs in this one and few people are giving them a chance at pulling the upset. But while Ole Miss is clearly a talented team playing well, the Rebels didn’t look overpowering at home against Vanderbilt a week ago. The Gators are coming off their biggest win in three years and know they can make a huge statement with a victory. Florida will want to avoid falling too far behind like they did against Tennessee to pull off a victory. The Rebels, averaging more than 54 points a game, are too good on offense and won’t let up.