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Kelly, Landshark defense must both step up for Ole Miss to claim third straight against Bama

Kelly, Landshark defense must both step up for Ole Miss to claim third straight against Bama

As is expected there are going to be challenges when Ole Miss hosts the top-ranked team in the country on Saturday afternoon. There are always concerns when you play against Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide.

In addition to the sheer talent of the folks you see on the opponents’ sidelines and on the field in crimson and white, Hugh Freeze and company also have an another area of concern. The injury bug has taken away three players who were going to contribute in a big way this season for the Rebels: Ken Webster, Eric Swinney and D.K. Metcalf.

The loss of Swinney, who was expected to be a playmaker, combined with the ineligibility of Jordan Wilkins, makes running back a much thinner position for Ole Miss. And with the inexperience at the safety position, the loss of Ken Webster is a definite blow as well.

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Ole Miss needs senior Tony Bridges, shown here against FSU, to step up against Alabama. (Photo credit: Amanda Swain, The Rebel Walk)

Obviously, Ole Miss has won the last two match-ups in this series against Alabama—and has an unprecedented third straight in its sights—but the Rebels have had the benefit of being healthy at key positions in those victories.

This season, with a roster closer than ever to the talent-level and depth of Alabama, injuries could put Ole Miss at a bit of a disadvantage. The secondary must shift, as it has already, and guys must step up and play even better. Tony Bridges is where that starts, but fellow senior Carlos Davis must bring veteran savvy to the table, as well.

Chad Kelly needs a big Saturday

On Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway, Chad Kelly can become only the second quarterback to ever beat Nick Saban in back-to-back seasons–the only other to do so is Drew Brees. Kelly is also one of only five signal-callers to throw three touchdowns and no interceptions against Saban and Alabama.

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Senior quarterback Chad Kelly (Photo credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk)

But if he is to defeat Alabama again, Kelly will have to do so against an even better Tide defense than he faced last season. Not that the Tide needed to improve its play, but the sheer talent on the defensive side of the ball is insane. There is not an area of the Alabama defense that has an obvious weakness.

So can Chad Kelly can repeat the performance he notched against the Tide a season ago: 18-of-33 passes for 341 yards and four total touchdowns? To do so, he must step forward and play the game of the season this week, and, no doubt, he knows that.

No one studies more film than Ole Miss’ senior quarterback, so trust that his preparation will be intense, as will his focus. If his performance follows suit, the Rebels very well could be undefeated in SEC play after Saturday.

Containing Jalen Hurts

In addition to Kelly having a superb game, the Rebels’ defense must contain Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts. Most likely, the performance freshman quarterback Deondre Francois put together in the second half for the Seminoles two weeks ago is still fresh on the minds of Rebel nation. Well, Hurts has the same capabilities—in fact, he’s an even better runner.

Jalen Hurts is the first true freshman to start for Alabama in 32 years. (Photo credit: MARVIN GENTRY/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Jalen Hurts is the first true freshman to start for Alabama in 32 years. (Photo credit: MARVIN GENTRY/USA TODAY SPORTS)

In just two games, the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Channelview, Texas native has completed 61.7 percent of his passes (29 for 47), while passing for 405 yards and four TD’s.

In Alabama’s opener against USC the frosh tossed and ran for two touchdowns each. Last week, Hurts dusted Western Kentucky with 287 yards passing and two touchdown throws, while completing 23-of-36 passes.

When offensive coordinator Lane Kiffen looks across the Alabama-Mississippi border, or even to the film from the Rebels’ first two games, he sees a defensive secondary that has been suspect. Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart and O.J. Howard could be a difficult group for the Ole Miss linebacker and defensive backs to contain if Hurts is getting time to throw and is on his game.

Slowing down the Alabama ground game

Another constant with Alabama is its powerful running game. The Rebels will face 6-foot-2, 228-lb Bo Scarborough, who is just as big as last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Derrick Henry. The Tide will also feature a heavy dose of sophomore Damien Harris, who is averaging 9.1 yards per carry this season.

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D.J. Jones and Breeland Speaks are part of a formidable defensive line for the Rebels. (Photo credit: Amanda Swain, The Rebel Walk)

And of course, Ole Miss must factor in Hurts. Though his yardage totals haven’t been impressive, he has escapability and speed once he gets going forward. He could spell trouble for an Ole Miss defense that is sure to want to try and generate a pass rush with just four down linemen. In fact, the pass rush could be an area of strength against the Tide offensive unit, but Ole Miss must be sure to let it. The Rebels have been susceptible this season to tight ends and backs slipping into the shallow flat.

Ole Miss has a talented and accomplished senior quarterback at the helm who could very well make the difference in Saturday’s game; however, Alabama has a talented quarterback of its own—one who can beat you with his feet or his arm. The Ole Miss Landshark defense must step up and show what its made of.

(Feature image credit: Amanda Swain, The Rebel Walk)

About The Author

John Luke McCord

John Luke covers all sports for The Rebel Walk and also writes about high school football for the Southern Elite Sports network, most frequently for SES Mississippi. John Luke is from Tupelo and is the Host of The Buzz on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2-3 p.m. on 95.1 FM in Tupelo. He is also a frequent co-host of Mississippi Sports Today with Craig Horton on ESPN 96.3 FM, The Ticket, from 7-9 a.m. in Tupelo.

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