No. 15 Ole Miss seeks another rare win vs. No. 2 Alabama
The Mississippi quarterback was only on campus for a week or two in January when he started watching film of the second-ranked Crimson Tide. When your first Southeastern Conference game is against a program that has lately been the gold standard in a league that prides itself on being the nation's best, a little extra homework can't hurt.
Kelly and the 15th-ranked Rebels (2-0) are hunting a second straight upset of the Tide (2-0) Saturday night in a Western Division matchup of who teams who aren't sure yet just how good they are.
''I just can't wait until we get out there Saturday,'' Kelly said. ''It's going to be so much fun.''
Past Ole Miss teams haven't enjoyed these visits to 101,821-seat Bryant-Denny Stadium all that much. Alabama has won the past 12 meetings in Tuscaloosa. Then again, history didn't keep the Rebels from ending a 10-year losing streak in the series last season with a dramatic victory and postgame storming of the field.
The Tide still went on to win the SEC and make the College Football Playoffs. So the loser clearly isn't out of the mix, while the winner takes a big step forward.
''Every week, every team is gunning for us,'' Alabama center Ryan Kelly said. ''That's the nature of the beast when you play at Alabama. Now we're starting SEC play. So every week is going to be a test. I'm not saying the past two haven't been, but every time you get into SEC play, it feels like it gets ramped up a little bit.
''So there's going to be different energy out there for us and we're going to step up to the challenge.''
Ole Miss is pitting the nation's top scoring offense against a defense that coach Hugh Freeze calls ''as talented as I have ever seen.'' It's hardly the clash of styles the game might seem. Alabama has actually run 12 more plays than a Rebels offense known for tempo, and Ole Miss ranks right behind Alabama on the league's total defense stats.
Some things to watch in the game:
TRANSFER QBS: Kelly and Alabama's Jake Coker get their first starts in an SEC game, and a big one to boot. They've both put up strong numbers with only one interception apiece and an array of playmakers to choose from. They also started their careers at ACC rivals Clemson (Kelly) and Florida State.
GAUDY OFFENSE - The Rebels are averaging 74.5 points per game after playing Tennessee-Martin and Fresno State. Kelly has been terrific and breakout stars like Quincy Adeboyejo have emerged. Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones is keeping those numbers in perspective. ''You can't really look at that,'' Jones said. ''You have to look at who they're playing.''
BIG PLAY DEFENSE: This might be the kind of game that turns on a big defensive play. Ole Miss safety Trae Elston is matching two-way force Robert Nkemdiche with two touchdowns, but Elston's have both come via interception returns. Chief Brown also has scored on an interception return.
TUNSIL WATCH: Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil has missed the first two games because of an ongoing NCAA investigation. Fahn Cooper will likely start at left tackle if Tunsil remains suspended against one of college football's best front sevens.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking game edge might go to Ole Miss based on a limited body of work this season. Alabama has struggled in some facets of special teams. Punter JK Scott doesn't rank among the SEC's Top 10 after leading the nation last season. Tide placekicker Adam Griffith is 0 for 4 on field goals. The Rebels' Gary Wunderlich has only been called on once, making a 37-yarder.