There was a time in the summer when optimism ran high in a lot of places, and everyone was pushing this team or that to be the next big thing.
Remember Auburn’s July swagger?
The Tigers aren’t the only team to head south of preseason expectations.
Some teams have headed north including the two meeting in Gainesville Saturday night, Ole Miss and Florida.
A lot of people expected Ole Miss to be good this season. I don’t think as many expected the Rebels to knock off Alabama in Tuscaloosa and to be ranked No. 3 going to Florida the first weekend in October.
Most of those same people surely didn’t expect the Gators to be ranked in the top 25.
I never looked at this weekend and circled it as an automatic W for the Rebels though some people did.
There’s too much talent in the state of Florida, and there’s talent on the Florida roster even if Will Muschamp, now the defensive coordinator at Auburn, couldn’t quite pull it all together.
Muschamp, in some of his last comments to Florida media, said, “Don’t let that new guy tell you he doesn’t have good players.”
That statement was actually shared with me as a double negative, but I wasn’t there so I won’t penalize Muschamp for poor grammar.
The new guy is Jim McElwain by the way, former Alabama offensive coordinator, who had a successful stint at Colorado State before taking a job with which Hugh Freeze’s name was closely linked.
The bottom line is the state of Florida is a fertile recruiting ground for many schools so it’s not a stretch to think the Gators, even the transitioning Gators, have guys who can play.
What is unique about this matchup is that Ole Miss has more of them.
How many times in the modern era have you been able to say that Ole Miss has more talent than Florida? Looks that way to me.
Through four games the Rebels are better at quarterback, better at wide receiver, deeper at running back, deeper on the defensive line.
Florida’s strength on defense appears to the be secondary led by cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, but the Gators have been good up front too. They’re giving up just 105 yards a game on the ground, third in the SEC and No. 22 in America.
Florida will go with a redshirt freshman at quarterback in Will Grier who will be making only his fourth start.
Running back Kelvin Taylor has made some big plays, but there’s not been much running back production behind him.
What the Gators have right now is confidence. They remember July when expectations outside the program weren’t very high.
Ole Miss had questions then but has answered its quarterback uncertainty with outstanding play – mostly – from Chad Kelly. Kelly hit a speed bump with a couple of poor decisions that resulted in a couple of interceptions last week against Vanderbilt. It was odd to see since he had a nine-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio in the first three games. Ole Miss fans were able to allow themselves to become excited at the idea of a quarterback who would limit interceptions. Better slow the brakes on that and see how Kelly bounces back at the Swamp against a very good secondary. Once is an isolated incident, twice is a trend.
The guess here is that Kelly does bounce back. There were several factors that could have combined to work against Kelly and his teammates last week. Yes, there’s a bit of a hangover from such an emotional win as the Rebels’ experienced in Tuscaloosa. Getting back at 5 a.m. on a bus trip and throwing the schedule off doesn’t help things.
Add to that the experienced players on this team and what they remembered from last year’s trip to Nasvhille to face the Commodores. Vanderbilt offered no resistance, and a 41-3 SEC road win was quite an easy thing in 2014.
Kelly wasn’t around, but many Ole Miss players remembered that even if the film was showing something different.
The film showed an improved Vanderbilt team, and that’s what showed up at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The Commodores were especially better on defense, specifically the red zone. They were ranked No. 7 nationally in that category going into the game, and while Kelly was able to guide Ole Miss into the red zone six times the Rebels were forced to attempt field goals three times. One was blocked.
Kelly also had to deal with offensive line issues last week as Justin Bell and Rod Taylor were held out. Bell remains out, but Taylor is expected to be available.
Heading to the Swamp Kelly has already shown he can be great, and Ole Miss has shown it can win, in a difficult – perhaps the most difficult – SEC environment.
Because of what happened against Vanderbilt Ole Miss will be more focused for Florida.
Florida is playing the no respect card this week judging from comments from McElwain and players.
The Rebels won’t buy into that, and respect for the Gators and the environment will aid focus.
Florida’s secondary is the real deal, but East Carolina managed to pass for 346 yards in a 31-24 loss in Gainesville.
The Laquon Treadwell-Hargreaves matchup has gotten a lot of attention. I would expect some of Ole Miss’ other weapons to make plays including tight end Evan Engram. The Gators are without Alex Anzalone, who is described as their best cover linebacker.
Ole Miss running back Jaylen Walton tells that Florida is very fast and athletic in its front seven but tends to over pursue and leave cut-back lanes. He sees opportunities in the run game.
If so, that would be a help to Kelly, and Ole Miss can get the play-action pass game going.
The Rebels have had good success in Gainesville, winning their last two trips. In fact, the Gators have trotted out the Tim Tebow speech, the one he delivered in postgame in 2008 when Houston Nutt’s Rebels won 31-30 and Florida went on to win the national championship.
Expect a close one in the Swamp, but expect the Rebels to make the decisive plays.
Prediction: Ole Miss 27, Florida 26