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Prior to the 2015 college football season, Athlon Sports projected the 15th-ranked Rebels (2-0) to finish third in the SEC behind Alabama and No. 18 Auburn, but that could possibly change with a win over the Crimson Tide (2-0) on Saturday. From speaking with the players and coaches, it appears the Rebels are looking forward to the challenge of playing Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
The word “confidence” has surfaced throughout the Ole Miss locker room this season and will be put to the test with Ole Miss’ first challenge of the season awaiting them on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
The Rebels have appeared relaxed this week, going about business as usual. After the 73-21 win against the Bulldogs on Saturday, Ole Miss watched game film on No. 2-ranked Alabama on Sunday and studied ways to stop its offensive attack of Derrick Henry, who’s second in the SEC in rushing yards (243), and Kenyan Drake, who broke his ankle in last year’s contest agains the Rebels.
“Alabama has a good scheme. They have a good offensive line and they are very well coached,” Freeze said. “Derrick Henry is very talented. So are their numbers 17, 34, 13 and 88. Alabama has a bunch of playmakers who make them what they are. It gives them some explosive runs. It is not just Henry. You certainly have to tackle him low. He is big and he is physical. You also have to be aware of where all of their other weapons are.”
The numbers 13, 17, 34, and 88 Freeze referred to belong to sophomore wide receiver ArDarius Stewart, senior running back Kenyan Drake, freshman linebacker Christian Miller, and junior tight end O.J. Howard, respectively. Stewart has 10 receptions for 65 yards in the Crimson Tide’s two victories over Wisconsin and Middle Tennessee State. Howard is 16th in the SEC in receiving yards (105), and Drake has rushed for 117 yards and one rushing touchdown.
Ole Miss and Alabama are ranked first and second, respectively, in the league in total offense through the first two games of the season. The Rebels are first in the SEC in total offense (1,269), while the Tide is right behind them with 1,034 yards of total offense. “I like the personality of this team,” Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban said. “We’ve played physical and the players have given good effort.”
One statistic favoring the Rebels thus far this season is found in the passing category. Ole Miss has become one of the most prolific offenses in college football this season, thanks to junior college transfer QB Chad Kelly, who has made the college football landscape take notice of his arm–and the high-octane offense he has brought to Ole Miss.
Kelly currently leads the NCAA in yards-per-pass-attempt (13.93) and pass efficiency (234.0)
“The ball is coming out of his hands fast,” Freeze said about his starting quarterback. “We have really harped on him to understand the timing of things. I’ve got to give (offensive coordinator) Dan Werner credit for preparing him. But, Chad studies more film than I do. I think that is obvious in the way he has performed.”
“I had one of my three or four meetings with him per week, last week, and he used a phrase that I believe he found in an article that has really stuck with me. Chad said, ‘Coach, I desperately want you to coach me.’ I think that speaks to his mindset right now.”
“He doesn’t just want to be coached in the X’s and O’s, but I think he is trying to rewrite his story in a really good way,” Freeze added.
The Rebels have a chance to duplicate last season’s magic of beating a top-five opponent. Last year’s win over then-No. 1 Alabama was the program’s first win against the nation’s top-ranked team. But Ole Miss will need more than Kelly on offense to defeat the Crimson Tide inside the raucous Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The Rebels will need some efficiency from their running game, which wasn’t a key factor in last season’s 23-17 upset. Ole Miss rushed for 76 on 32 carries. Senior running back Jaylen Walton and quarterback Bo Wallace each had 11 carries for a total of 71 yards.
It’s not going to be an easy task as Alabama has held its opponents to 63 rushing yards per game and has forced and recovered three fumbles.
“They are as talented as I have ever seen,” Freeze said about the Crimson Tide’s defense. “They are as deep and talented as you can imagine. They have had some really good defensive squads, and this is as talented as I have ever seen one.”
Regardless of the talent on the Alabama team, the 2015 Rebels will enter the game excited and confident they have a shot at winning in Tuscaloosa for the first time since 1988.
As Ole Miss middle linebacker C.J. Johnson said following his team’s win over Fresno State last Saturday:
“We are ready. We are going to be ready; we are going to prepare. It’s going to be a knock down in T-Town and we can’t wait.”
Date: September, Sept. 19, 2015
Time: 8:15 p.m. CT
Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Venue: Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821)
Live Stats: OleMissSports.com
Live Audio: OleMissSports.com