He’ll have a much better view if Ole Miss pulls off an encore performance.
Kelly and the 15th-ranked Rebels will face off against No. 2 Alabama Saturday at 8:15 p.m. CT in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Crimson Tide is 2-0 on the young season, with victories over Wisconsin and Middle Tennessee. Alabama’s defense has limited opponents to 63.0 rushing yards per game and forced and recovered three fumbles.
“I think they’re good,” Kelly said. “I think they’re really good. I mean, they lost Landon Collins, he was a big one last year for them. But most of those guys, (Alabama linebacker) Reggie (Ragland), I played against him in high school so I kinda know how he plays. He’s big, strong, physical, can run a little bit. Some of the guys on the line, I think they’re stronger in the front seven than they are in the back four. But like I said, they all do a great job. I’m excited.”
Kelly is certainly familiar with Alabama. The Crimson Tide finished in his top three in his recruitment years ago, which meant an official visit to campus and recruiting pitches from Nick Saban.
Ultimately, though, he ended up at Clemson. The rest is history.
“They had great facilities, great everything,” he said. “I just wanted to be a playmaker out there and that’s really why I went to Clemson. They did it all back then.”
Now it’s Kelly and the Ole Miss offense doing it all.
The Rebels set a school record with 149 combined points in their first two games, surpassing the previous record of 131 in 1904. They also became the first team in school history to eclipse 600 total yards two times in the same season.
And there’s still 10 regular-season games to go.
“They’re great all across the board,” Kelly said of Alabama. “They have great athletes. They recruit great players all the time and every year you see multiple people go to the NFL from that team. I think they have some weaknesses we can exploit but I mean they play hard. They play fast. They have great coaches so it will be a great challenge. I’m excited for the opportunity it presents.”
Ole Miss reached the midway point of its practice week Wednesday, and head coach Hugh Freeze was much more pleased with his team’s approach compared to Tuesday.
Freeze was none too thrilled with the attention to detail of the team, as well as its body language and how the Rebels went about their business. “It was everybody. Coaches, too. Me, too. I wasn’t at my best.”
“It was a much better day,” he said. “It’s probably good I didn’t talk to you guys yesterday. It was not a good day yesterday, in my opinion. But today was much better. I thought our attention to detail, focus and preparation was much better. I’ll rest a little better tonight.”
As for the late kickoff, well, Freeze isn’t a fan.
“I don’t like them at all,” he said. “We benefit greatly from the deals we have with our TV sponsors. It’s not your preference as a coach or a player. You’d like to get up, get going, play and get back home. It’s a difficult transition to the next week, particularly when you’re on the road, and we’re busing back. It’s difficult on everybody. We’re getting older as coaches, and of course the players lose a night of rest.
“I like going on the road some. I don’t like the trips back always. You like to get in your own bed, and the routine I have on Sunday, with church and the things I like doing, gets changed a little bit. I think anytime you go on the road with a group like ours, you can kind of get an us-against-the-world mentality. I guess you’d say it does change much.”
Freeze said sticking with his routine is critical with the game well into the night.
“I try to keep myself away from the kids a good bit of the time,” he said. “I can talk myself into thinking we’re not concentrating enough, and they probably need to be away from me a good part of that day. We’ll change up our schedule a little bit, other than Friday. We’ll just travel, and then Saturday morning we’ll have a quick walk-through and our film study there.”
Day or night, Ole Miss is riding a hot offense into Saturday. For perspective, the Rebels scored 193 points all year in 2011. They’re 44 off the pace, and they’re barely into 2015. Still, Alabama is a significant step up from UT-Martin and Fresno State, and its defensive front is arguably the best in the country.
“You still got to execute, you still got to win one-on-ones,” Freeze said. “It’s not like they’re not used to seeing tempo. Their offense is doing tempo, so they can simulate it in practice every day. And they’ve got great coaches, and they’ll be prepared for it. We’ll try to be who we are, but you’ve got to, schematically, have a good play against what they’ve got called, and you’ve got to have kids who execute it.
“We want to stay balanced. We’re much better when we can do that. It sure would be nice if we could have some success running. That benefits us all the way around.”
The last time Ole Miss tripped to Alabama was 2013, the Rebels losing 25-0. Freeze acknowledged his program has come a long way since then.
“We’re year three and two games into a program, and our kids are more comfortable with it,” he said. “Quarterback’s playing well thus far, receivers are playing well, running the ball enough and staying balanced. But we haven’t been tested by a quality opponent as that of Alabama, so it’s hard to say. We haven’t changed. We’ve recruited more. Certainly we’re better now than we were in ’13. Hopefully our play will show that.”
Having junior offensive lineman Robert Conyers back in the fold should help. Freeze said he’s going to play, though he was non-committal on whether that’ll be at center or tackle. Ole Miss is still awaiting word from the NCAA on star left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
“Looked good today. He’s going to go,” Freeze said. “We’ll play the best o-linemen. He can play anywhere. We’ve played 12 in the first two games. I’d say (we play) nine to 10.”