Petre Thomas

Breaking Down Auburn's Opponent This Weekend, The Ole Miss Rebels

Taking a look at the Ole Miss Rebels with Ole Miss Spirit writer Ben Garrett.

1. How impressive has Chad Kelly been since arriving in Oxford? What has been the key to his strong play this season?

Garrett: "Extremely impressive. Actually, it could be argued Ole Miss would be in a similar situation as Auburn without him. He's been their MVP. The injury bug hasn't been kind to the Rebels all season, and they've played without some of their very best players at different stretches, from Tony Conner and Robert Nkemdiche to Issac Gross, Justin Bell and Javon Patterson. Kelly has been a constant, and his arm strength and deep-ball accuracy has certainly been an improvement over Bo Wallace, one of the most productive quarterbacks in Ole Miss history. Kelly is on an offensive pace not seen at Ole Miss since another No. 10 was calling the shots under center, Eli Manning.  He leads the SEC in passing (309.4 ypg, 12th in nation), total offense (327.0 ypg, 11th in nation), passing TDs (18, 11th in nation), pass efficiency (154.8, 17th in nation) and points responsible for (132, 10th in nation)."

2. With Laquon Treadwell back to full speed and better than ever is this the best wide receiver group ever at Ole Miss?

Garrett: "Without question. Treadwell is not only back to full speed, but he's playing at another level in his junior season - a level that should propel him to NFL millions comes the 2016 NFL Draft in the spring. He leads the SEC in receptions per game (6.8) and receiving yards per game (94.5), and even in those matchups where Ole Miss struggled to find its footing offensively (like, say, Florida), Treadwell was producing. Ole Miss is legitimately seven deep at wide receiver. Behind Treadwell are Cody Core, Quincy Adeboyejo, Damore'ea Stringfellow, Markell Pack and others. I haven't even mentioned Evan Engram, who's more wide receiver than tight end. The No. 1 wide receiver in the class of 2015 according to, DaMarkus Lodge, can't even see the field right now. Ole Miss has never had a group like this."

3. Do you expect Robert Nkemdiche to be back in action for the Rebels on Saturday?

I do. Nkemdiche suffered a concussion in Ole Miss' loss at Memphis. After a week in protocol, he woke up last Saturday morning with headaches, and the Ole Miss training staff wanted to show precaution with the Rebels' best defensive player. He sat against Texas A&M, but he returned to practice on Tuesday, as did Tony Conner, who's been out since Alabama with a torn meniscus. It's very doubtful Conner suits up on the Plains. Nkemdiche, though, is another story. He'll be in there.

4. What kind of impact does having Laremy Tunsil back at offensive tackle have for the Ole Miss offense?

Tunsil means everything to Ole Miss offensively. That's not an exaggeration. Take the running game, for example. The Rebels produced all of 40 yards on 24 carries at Memphis, a team that entered the day giving up nearly 120 per game. Ole Miss for two years has been unable to run the ball with any kind of consistency, but in seven games without Tunsil this season, the bottom dropped out. A week later, in his season debut, he helped pave the way for 230 yards rushing against an improved Texas A&M defense. Not only that, he neutralized star Aggie defensive end Myles Garrett. The entire makeup of the line is better with Tunsil. Fahn Cooper, who filled in for Tunsil while he was sidelined, has now shifted back over to his natural position, right tackle. Patterson, a true freshman and emerging all-league caliber player, can settle in beside the All-American at left guard and flourish. Justin Bell has moved from guard to center, where he's better suited. Suffice to say, Tunsil is irreplaceable.

5. Who is the under the radar player for Ole Miss that could be a household name to Auburn fans after Saturday's game?

Breeland Speaks. A redshirt freshman, Speaks filled in for Nkemdiche during his game-and-a-half absence. He was the Rebels' best defensive player. Seriously. The disruption he caused and pressure he generated on Aggie quarterback Kyle Allen was advanced for his age. A year to get stronger and drop weight was huge for him, and he's reaping the benefits of his patience and hard work. He's similar in build and style as Nkemdiche. I expect his snaps to only continue to increase over these final four games of the season.

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