Ole Miss at Alabama Preview: Three most important matchups to watch

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Sep 5, 2015; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly (10) looks to pass the ball during the game against the Tennessee Martin Skyhawks at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Rebels won 76 – 3.Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Chad Kelly vs. the Alabama Secondary

It’s only been two games, and both featured relatively weak opponents, but Ole Miss has gotten exactly what it hoped out of Chad Kelly. In his first two starts for the Rebels, the junior college transfer has completed 29 of 40 pass attempts (72.5 percent) for 557 yards and six touchdowns with one interception. To date, Kelly leads the nation in yards per pass attempt (13.9) and QB rating (94.3), thanks in part to one of the SEC’s best receiving corps.

Laquon Treadwell is arguably the most talented wide receiver in the nation and Evan Engram ranks as one of the best tight ends. However, Cody Core leads the Rebels through the first two weeks of the season with 176 receiving yards, which he gained on only eight receptions (22.0 yards per catch) and has scored two touchdowns. Quincy Adeboyejo has been just as good with 153 yards on eight grabs (19.1) and four scores.

A fleet-footed signal caller, Kelly has also run for 46 yards on six carries (7.7 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns. Alabama has a history of struggling to defend mobile quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, Nick Marshall and Cardale Jones, and Kelly poses a similar threat in designed QB runs and as a scrambler.

With Kelly leading the way, the Rebels have scored more than 73 points and gained well over 600 yards in each game, and Kelly didn’t play very much in the second half of either contest. It’s an historic start never accomplished by an SEC squad. Ole Miss leads the nation with 9.3 yards – nearly a first down – per play.

The Alabama defense obviously will be tougher than either UT-Martin or Fresno State (and could prove tougher than any other team Ole Miss will face this season) but the Rebels look like they can score on the Crimson Tide, and Kelly is a major reason why. However, the Tide secondary will pose a major challenge.

Alabama has been dominant on defense this season, especially against the run. The Tide have allowed an average of 271.5 yards of offense per game this season, 63 of which have come on the ground. Because Alabama has held big early leads in both games so far, opponents have thrown often (82 times total), but are averaging just 5.09 yards per pass. The Tide has also intercepted two passes: one apiece from playmaking defensive backs Eddie Jackson and Cyrus Jones.

Next: Ryan Kelly vs. Robert Nkemdiche