Marvin Gentry / USA TODAY Sports

Florida Gators' opponent preview: Ole Miss

Florida is preparing for its most difficult challenge so far this season when No. 3 Ole Miss comes to Gainesville this weekend.

Quarterback

After spending two years at Clemson and one at East Mississippi Community College, Chad Kelly won the Ole Miss quarterback competition during fall camp and has been nothing short of dominant this season. Kelly is averaging 304.8 passing yards per game while completing 61.7 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. His 174.3 passing efficiency rating is 10th in the country.

Kelly can add the threat of the run when needed, gaining 91 rushing yards and three touchdowns this year.

Running back

Jaylen Walton provides blazing speed out of the Ole Miss backfield. The starting running back has 269 yards rushing this season, averaging 6.4 yards per carry and 67.2 yards per game. Walton, who also serves as the primary kickoff returner, has three touchdowns while adding six receptions for 31 yards out of the backfield.

Sophomore Jordan Wilkins will give Walton a breather at times. Wilkins is averaging 5.4 yards per carry with 146 rushing yards and one touchdown.

Wide receiver

The best group of receivers Florida will face this season, Ole Miss has a deep, talented unit that can challenge defenses with its size and speed.

Laquon Treadwell is the headliner and with good reason. The junior has a team-high 22 catches and 332 yards, averaging 83 yards per game and 15.1 yards per reception. Cody Core has 14 catches for 320 yards and three touchdowns while Quincy Adeboyejo leads the team with five receiving touchdowns to go along with 10 catches and 224 yards.

Damore’ea Stringfellow (11 catches, 175 yards) and Markell Pack (10 catches, 125 yards) are also heavily involved in the passing game.

Tight end

Florida coach Jim McElwain emphasized the importance of Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram in his Monday press conference. He’s a difficult matchup for any defense. Engram’s 6-3, 227-pound frame makes him tough for defensive backs to cover, but his speed gives the Rebels an advantage if Gators put a linebacker on him.

Engram hasn’t shown up in the stat sheet much this season -- totaling just five catches for 68 yards -- but the Florida coaches and defensive players know how important he is to slow down.

Offensive line

Injuries and suspensions have hurt the Ole Miss offensive line this year. The most notable is left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who hasn’t played yet this season while the NCAA investigates allegations that Tunsil violated its rules. A first-round talent from less than an hour north of Gainesville, the loss of Tunsil hurt the Rebels.

The Ole Miss offensive line held up well in the first three games of the season, including the team’s win at Alabama. However, the group struggled against Vanderbilt last week.

Left tackle Fahn Cooper slide over from right tackle, where he started all 13 games last season. Left guard Aaron Morris started every game in 2012 and 2014 at the position, missing the 2013 season with a torn ACL. Center Robert Conyers came into the season with three starts last season, but only one of them came at center.

Right guard Javon Patterson is a true freshman that was an Army All-American last season and a top 100 overall player on Scout. Redshirt freshman Sean Rawlings, a former three-star recruit in the 2014 class, starts at right tackle.

That’s how Ole Miss lined up against Vanderbilt last week, but guard Justin Bell was out and Rod Taylor has been limited while playing with a torn labrum.

Defensive line

Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche is the headliner of the Ole Miss defense. Hugh Freeze and staff have made an effort to even involve him with the offense, as he had a 31-yard touchdown reception and a pair of one-yard touchdown runs. Nkemdiche has 15 tackles, adding 4.5 tackles for a loss, two quarterback hurries and one blocked kick. For a Florida offense whose weakness is the interior of the offensive line, this is by far the most lopsided matchup of the game on paper.

Nose tackle Woodrow Hamilton is 6-3, 319 pounds and eats up space in the middle next to Nkemdiche.

Defensive ends Fadol Brown and Marquis Haynes have combined for 0.5 sacks this season. Sacks are obviously only part of an effective pass rush, but the Rebels have three sacks as a team.

Linebacker

After starting every game at defensive end last year, C.J. Johnson is playing middle linebacker this season and has 13 tackles, two interceptions, two quarterback hurries and three pass deflections in three games this year.

The older Nkemdiche brother, Denzel, leads the Rebels with 29 tackles -- 10 more than any other player -- adding five tackles for a loss, one quarterback hurry, one pass breakup and one pass deflection.

A.J. Moore, the outside linebacker opposite of Nkemdiche, has 15 tackles, one sack, and two forced fumbles and recoveries.

Cornerback

Tony Bridges transferred from East Mississippi Community College and has been an important piece of the Ole Miss defense. Bridges is fourth on the team with 17 tackles, adding one interception, two pass breakups and three pass deflections.

On the other side of the field, Kendarius Webster is in his first full season as a starting cornerback. Webster has 15 tackles, three pass breakups and three pass deflections.

Safety

Star safety Tony Conner will miss Saturday’s game with a knee injury, forcing Trae Elston and Mike Hilton into important roles. Ole Miss lists Hilton as its rover, and he has 16 tackles, half of a sack, four pass breakups and four pass deflections. Elston is second on the team with 19 tackles, adding a team-high three interceptions and four pass deflections.

Elston and Hilton were both preseason third-team All-SEC selections. Elston was primarily the rover last season while Hilton has played every position in the secondary during his Ole Miss career.


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