Chad Kelly, Alabama defensive line will be key in Alabama-Ole Miss showdown

Who steps up: Chad Kelly or Auburn's defense? (1:19)

ESPN's Todd McShay and Trevor Matich discuss whether Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly or Auburn's defense under the tutelage of Will Muschamp will step up their game. (1:19)

College GameDay is in town as Alabama looks for revenge after losing to Ole Miss last year in the Grove. For the Rebels, the season starts now. After hanging 70-plus points on UT Martin and Fresno State, they get their first true test.

When Alabama has the ball

Edward Aschoff: Try to wear down the Ole Miss front with that physical running game. Jake Coker looked shaky at times against Middle Tennessee State and just didn’t seem comfortable with the deep ball. He’ll get no help from Ole Miss’ loaded secondary, and Bama’s offense needs the run to set up the pass.

David Ching: The Ole Miss defense is good enough that Alabama can’t rely solely on running backs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, who have scored eight of the Tide’s first 10 touchdowns. It’s not difficult to picture Ole Miss winning this game if Jake Coker and Cooper Bateman struggle to move the ball through the air.

Sam Khan: The steady diet of Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake while targeting O.J. Howard early and often in the passing game seems like the recipe for success. The Rebels have an excellent defense, but force them to stop that 1-2 running duo before getting too cute in the air.

Greg Ostendorf: Converting third downs will be critical for Alabama. Through two games, this offense ranks 12th in the SEC, converting only 8 of 24 of their third-down chances. They have gotten by with big plays, but that won’t fly against Ole Miss.

Alex Scarborough: This should be the Derrick Henry show for Alabama. And if it's not, that spells trouble. Because the offensive line has shown some holes, especially at right tackle, and the play at quarterback has been less than stellar. If Henry can wear down the Ole Miss defense, that could change everything.

When Ole Miss has the ball

Aschoff: Let Chad Kelly sling that ball. He has a cannon for a right arm and Alabama’s defense still has questions in its back end. Kelly just threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns, including ones of 50 and 44 yards, against Fresno State and could light up the Tide.

Ching: We’ve seen what Kelly can do, but will the Rebels be able to run the ball? Jaylen Walton & Co. have had some nice moments, but those defenses weren’t Alabama’s. If they can make Alabama’s defense respect the run, Kelly’s job becomes a lot easier.

Khan: The Rebels have to run the ball -- not necessarily a lot -- but effectively to keep themselves in favorable down-and-distance situations and avoid being predictable. That's easier said than done against Alabama's defensive line, but the Rebels have showed promise (albeit against weaker competition) in that area, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.

Ostendorf: Kelly has looked terrific in the first two games, but the offensive line didn’t have much trouble protecting him against UT-Martin and Fresno State. It’s a little different against an Alabama defense stocked with NFL talent. How will this Ole Miss line hold up, especially if Laremy Tunsil sits out again?

Scarborough: If Ole Miss can't get the running backs going, it could spell trouble. Being one-dimensional against Alabama just isn't the way to go. That secondary might be going through a transition, but the front seven is too good and Nick Saban is too smart a coach to struggle against an unbalanced attack.


Aschoff: Whoever plays at left tackle for Ole Miss. We still don’t know if Tunsil is going to play, but whoever lines up there will have his hands full. Fahn Cooper has played well at left tackle in two games, but now he could face the likes of Jonathan Allen, Jarran Reed and Denzel Devall.

Ching: If this game comes down to a field goal, Alabama can’t have much confidence. Kicker Adam Griffith is slumping, having missed all four of his field-goal tries. He missed from 24 and 49 yards in last week’s victory over Middle Tennessee and had misses from 44 and 39 against Wisconsin.

Khan: Each team's tight end can be a game breaker in this one. Both had big plays in last year's meeting (Alabama's Howard caught a 53-yard pass; Ole Miss' Evan Engram caught a 50-yarder) and the matchup problems they create for linebackers and safeties can be valuable if utilized effectively.

Ostendorf: Griffith has yet to make a field goal this season. That’s going to have to change if Alabama wants to beat Ole Miss on Saturday. It doesn’t have to come in the final seconds, but don’t be surprised if this game is decided by three points or fewer, and one made or missed field goal might prove to be the difference.

Scarborough: Engram is a matchup nightmare for everyone, and Alabama's defense is no different. I don't see a linebacker that's quick enough to keep up with Ole Miss' athletic tight end. Conversely, I don't see a safety big enough to cover him, either.