There have been a couple of Laremy Tunsil updates released by national outlets over the last several hours, but there’s no change in Tunsil’s status.
So No. 15 Ole Miss is getting ready for a monster SEC game at No. 2 Alabama without its best offensive lineman.
Tunsil has been dressed and at practice but hasn’t gotten meaningful reps. That would keep him from jumping into the lineup if the NCAA deemed him cleared today or tomorrow.
A four-game suspension seems to be the norm for impermissible benefits ESPN reports, and the sticking point with the NCAA appears to be a loaner car from a local dealership while Tunsil was having work done on his car.
It also appears to be a loaner car scenario that has cost sophomore safety C.J. Hampton the first two games though Hampton appears in the clear and ready to play against Alabama.
Ole Miss could absorb Hampton’s absence against Alabama much more than it will be able to absorb Tunsil’s.
It’s true the offensive line has performed well in two games and has begun to develop chemistry among itself without Tunsil, but the step up in competition this week is enormous.
Though Fresno State was pretty bad on defense last year, I thought the Bulldogs might be improved and provide a stiffer test for Ole Miss last week. That wasn’t the case.
Ole Miss has recruited talent and has more numbers along its offensive line, but it also has a lot of inexperience.
So Saturday night before 102,000 not-for-the-Rebels fans Ole Miss will start a true freshman at left guard, a redshirt freshman at right tackle and a junior at center who is in his first full-time season at the position and who has a gimpy knee.
That’s going to make it difficult to continue the run game success the Rebels have had in the first two games. Alabama has allowed 2.4 yards per rush in wins over Wisconsin and Middle Tennessee.
The threat of the run has been a big lift for Chad Kelly.
The Rebels’ new quarterback may have to improvise more at Alabama if Ole Miss can’t block and run consistently.
Ole Miss made big plays at big times in last year’s 23-17 win over the Tide but was outgained 396-327 and was held to 76 rushing yards on 32 carries.
Kelly has shown great poise in the pocket in two games. Ole Miss receivers have gotten open downfield and have been real weapons, a far cry from the challenge they received from their coach, Hugh Freeze, in the spring when he called on them to be more consistent.
Throwing the deep ball requires standing in the pocket long enough for routes to develop, and that means holding back a pass rush for that long.
Fahn Cooper can be effective at left tackle – He’s not Tunsil, but who is? – but the trickle down effect catches up with Ole Miss at right tackle where redshirt freshman Sean Rawlings starts.
Rawlings has good size and appears to have the skill and work ethic to become a good player. Facing this challenge at this time is almost unfair. It would have been better for Rawlings had he been able to break in against a middling SEC team or another Power Five opponent instead of going to Alabama in Week 3.
Walk-on Talbot Buys was running second team at right tackle earlier this week, but if the Rebels struggle there don’t be surprised to see more trickle down effect. That would likely include Robert Conyers moving from his new position of center back to right tackle. Ben Still or Justin Bell would jump in at center.
The Rebels do have Rod Taylor back right now, and that’s a plus. Although Bell has made 28 straight offensive line starts, most at right guard, it was Taylor running first team there during media viewing periods Tuesday.
Maybe Taylor starts there, maybe not, but they are clearly preparing him for a role. They don’t waste practice reps.
I really like the poise I’ve seen from Kelly, and I don’t expect him to be rattled.
I expect the offensive line to struggle, but I think Kelly will improvise and make plays. The deep balls won’t be there this week as often as they have been, but Alabama will have great awareness of that threat. That will open up things for tight end Evan Engram, who has just one catch for 5 yards through two games.
I expect the alignment issues for the Ole Miss defense to clear up this week with down-the-line depth chart players not getting in this game.
The Rebels have not been dominant in run defense. Alabama will get some yards, but it’s a chore to have long, sustained drives against this Ole Miss defense.
In the end I think the matchup of Alabama’s front seven against a transitioning Ole Miss offensive line will be one too difficult to overcome.
Prediction: Alabama 23, Ole Miss 20