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Breaking down Ole Miss in its matchup with Alabama

Cedric Mason- Touchdown Alabama Magazine

Alabama fans can remain at Bryant-Denny Stadium, as head coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide will play host once again, but this time it welcomes the Ole Miss Rebels.

Traffic will be hectic as ESPN’s College GameDay will be in Tuscaloosa, Ala. For Alabama, Saturday night is a revenge match. Mississippi, on the hand, looks to prove that’s no longer afraid of the Crimson Tide. Listed below is a breakdown of Ole Miss entering conference play.

Mississippi Rebels: 2-0, (0-0 SEC play)

Hugh Freeze enters his fourth season at Ole Miss as head coach.

He’s recruited well, and started benefiting from it last season. The Rebels were a perfect 7-0 by mid-season last year and were ranked third nationally. All good things came to an end for Mississippi down the stretch, as it lost four of its last six games to finish at 9-4.

Coach Freeze and company will enter Bryant-Denny Stadium with an explosive offense. Mississippi is averaging 74.5 points per game and 9.33 yards per play. It’s been strong on third downs, converting 56.5 percent and exceptional in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on all 11 of its opportunities. Ole Miss lost Bo Wallace, but Chad Kelly has been stellar at quarterback.

Kelly was sharp against Tennessee-Martin and Fresno State, completing 29 of 40 pass attempts for 557 yards with six touchdowns to one interception. He spot on with accuracy and ball placement, logging a 72.5 percent completion mark and a 233.97 quarterback rating.

Mississippi’s scheme on offense allows it to be successful without having a primary running back. The Rebels will look to rotate fresh bodies in the backfield against Alabama’s defense. Senior Jaylen Walton rushed for 586 yards and five touchdowns in 2014.

He enters Saturday’s game averaging 11.44 yards per carry and two touchdowns.

Sophomores Eugene Brazley and Jordan Wilkins are change of pace backs. Akeem Judd has totaled 86 rushing yards and a touchdown on 15 carries thus far. Freshman running back D.K. Buford and quarterback DeVante Kincade both display strong footwork in the hole.

Junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell is back from a leg injury and ready to do work in Southeastern Conference play. He recorded 48 catches for 632 yards and five touchdowns in nine games last season. Treadwell is averaging 13.0 yards per catch this year.

Senior wideout Cody Core was one of few receivers that stepped up in the absence of Treadwell in 2014. He saw action in 13 games, accounting for 558 yards and six scores on 41 receptions. Core will be counted on to do more in the absence of Vince Sanders.

He currently leads the team in receiving yards (176), yards per catch (22.0) and yards per game (88.0).

Junior tight end Evan Engram is a matchup nightmare for most defenses. At 6-foot-3, 237 pounds, Engram can either play on the line or be flexed out as a receiver. He finished second on the team in receptions (38), receiving yards (662) and yards per catch (17.42) last season.

Quincy Adeboyejo is an intriguing player. He’s not talked about much; however, he is a dynamic playmaker in the open field. The junior brought in 26 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns in 2014. He’s been on the receiving end of eight passes, totaling 153 yards and four touchdowns.

Defensively, Mississippi is on pace to being what it was last season. The Rebels have allowed an average of 12.0 points per game and opponents’ have converted just 21.3 percent on third down. Freshman defensive lineman Breeland Speaks leads the group with 11 tackles.

Defensive lineman Channing Ward (10) and defensive back Tony Bridges (9) are second and third respectively in total tackles. Ole Miss’s secondary has collected four interceptions, three of which have been returned for touchdowns.Senior Trae Elston has two interceptions for 131 yards and two touchdowns. Mississippi played a lot of guys in the first two weeks, but its main returning impact players on defense are listed below.

Ole Miss impact players on defense

  • DL Robert Nkemdiche
  • DL C.J. Johnson
  • DL Marquis Hanes
  • LB Denzel Nkemdiche
  • DB Tony Connor
  • DB Trae Elston
  • DB Mike Hilton
  • DB C.J. Hampton

Consistency and execution are two things that Alabama must do well this week.

Senior quarterback Jake Coker has to hit his spots and manage the offense. Alabama’s offensive line has the task of neutralizing Mississippi’s pass rush. Ryan Kelly, Cameron Robinson and others can’t afford to have Coker take a lot of sacks.

A strong performance from running back Derrick Henry could place him ahead of Nick Chubb and Leonard Fournette in the Heisman race. Sophomore wide receiver Robert Foster and junior tight end O.J. Howard can use this game as another platform to be primary targets.

Senior tailback Kenyan Drake has had this game marked on his calendar for almost a year. Fully healthy, Drake is out for blood and to prove why he is one of the best all-purpose backs nationally.

Defensively, head coach Nick Saban wants a consistent pass rush.

Alabama didn’t register a single sack last week, despite posting three against Wisconsin. When affected, Mississippi’s Chad Kelly can get frustrated and throw erratic passes. The Crimson Tide has been stout against the run, allowing 63.0 yards per game and 2.4 yards per carry.

For Alabama’s secondary, it all comes down to limiting big plays and facing the ball.

A 23-17 loss at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium was the lone blemish for Alabama last season. Mississippi suffered a 25-0 shutout loss in the 2013, the last time it came to Bryant-Denny Stadium. Who will have the upper hand this year? All answers will be revealed Saturday.

ESPN is set to air the game at 8:15 pm CT.

Stephen M. Smith is a senior analyst and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.

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