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Florida State football opponent Q&A: Ole Miss

Let’s get an Ole Miss perspective on Monday night’s showdown in Orlando.

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Mississippi v Oklahoma State Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

We’re very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team sites to work with during game weeks. Week One of our 2016 Opponent Q&A series features a chat with Juco All-American of Red Cup Rebellion, SBN’s home for Ole Miss coverage. We talk expectations, Chad Kelly, and quite an opening match-up.

TN: Ole Miss enters 2016 having improved on its win total in each of Hugh Freeze’s four seasons, including 10 wins and a Sugar Bowl victory in 2015. What are the expectations for the 2016 squad in Oxford? What would constitute a successful season?

RCR: I think expectations this season vary pretty significantly between fans. Some are predicting epic seasons, due primarily to the quarterback situation. Others cite problems among the back seven on defense. I particularly am not bullish on this team. I’m predicting a somewhat disappointing 8-4 regular season.

I think it would take 10 regular season wins to constitute a success. There’s a lot of talent on offense, so there’s a chance the Rebels just score a ton of points and win a slew of games that way this season. Ole Miss, however, is relying on a lot of unproven players on defense. I think it’s a recipe for trouble early on the year when the team faces a crazy lineup of FSU, Bama, and UGA in the first four weeks.

TN: The biggest question mark on offense appears to be the offensive line, where the Rebels lost five linemen who played significant minutes from 2015’s team. Tell us about the current state of the Ole Miss offensive line and how confident you’re feeling in the group.

RCR: Well let’s start with the good part of the line: the interior. Guards Javon Patterson and Jordan Sims are talented players who really turned it on near the end of last season. They’re athletic and strong. While neither is spectacular yet, both are better than average. Starting center Robert Conyers is a fifth year player who has manned all three “positions” on the OL through his career. He’s not fantastic at ball placement on snaps (hello, Alabama), but he’s a good blocker and knows the offense.

Then there are the tackle spots. True freshman left tackle Greg Little had a lot of expectations put on him before arriving to campus. The last time Ole Miss signed the #1 tackle in the country, he started for three years and allowed just two total sacks. Greg Little hasn’t been as quick to come around to the position, which is something people who watched his film would have recognized. He’s a great player, but his pass blocking is behind his run blocking at this point, and Ole Miss can’t afford to have trouble protecting Chad Kelly.

Unfortunately, Rod Taylor, the junior starting ahead of Little, is only marginally better. Taylor struggled a bit in the Sugar Bowl last season after Tunsil got the second half off. The starter at left tackle is Sean Rawlings who performed shockingly well as a starter during the first seven games last season but isn’t a complete player yet.

TN: Really the only other questions about Ole Miss’s offense are which of the talented ball carriers and receivers are going to step up. Who do you see as being poised for a big season in the backfield and out wide?

RCR: Yay! Now I get to talk about the good stuff. While Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core were both drafted by the NFL, the Ole Miss receiving corps is set up to maintain its dominant standing. Damore’ea Stringfellow is a 6’3” target for Kelly who really turned it on towards the end of last season (Stringfellow that is). Quincy Adeboyejo is one of the fastest players on the team and can outrun most corners on a go or fade (or ball that bounces off Laquon Treadwell’s hands). Past that, there are four players on campus who were top ten receivers coming out of high school, and Ole Miss fans are excited to see which ones step up and take major roles. All are freshmen or sophomores.

If I had to pick two receivers FSU fans haven’t heard of that could make a big impact Saturday, I would choose Van Jefferson and AJ Brown. Jefferson has already won the starting slot job as a redshirt freshman and runs great routes. AJ Brown has been compared to a young Laquon Treadwell.

At running back, things aren’t quite as rosy, but the Rebels return senior Akeem Judd, a patient power back who does well when there are running lanes. They also get back Eric Swinney, a freshman who was expected to have a role last year before an injury forced him to redshirt. Rumors out of camp have him challenging for a major role. He doesn’t have any one attribute that’s excellent but does everything pretty well… apparently. We’ll see soon enough.

TN: Which match-ups with Florida State’s defense concern you, and which do you think Chad Kelly and the Ole Miss offense can exploit?

RCR: Florida State’s defensive line is likely to be very difficult for the Ole Miss OL. With the tackle spots being unclear, the Rebels could have benefited from scheduling… not Florida State. Because of this, I think running in general will be very hard for Ole Miss. The Rebels don’t have an elite back at the moment who can make up for a substandard line.

On the other hand, while I do have respect for the secondary for the Seminoles, I think the combination of these receivers and Chad Kelly’s accuracy make this group dangerous against anyone. If the line can protect him long enough, Kelly can find open receivers, particularly on deep routes. It won’t be easy against FSU, but it’s doable.

TN: What’s the latest on defensive end Fadol Brown, and how are you feeling about Ole Miss’s defensive line with and without him?

RCR: He practiced yesterday, so that’s a good sign, but a lot of his ability to play depends on pain tolerance. Brown is a huge defensive end who excels at run-stuffing. He’s a fantastic complement to Marquis Haynes, the All-SEC pass-rusher. Brown isn’t a future first-round pick, but he’s very strong and reliable.

The problem is that whereas the DT pool at Ole Miss is strong, the depth at DE is pretty slim. If Brown can’t go, the Rebels turn to John Youngblood, a player who isn’t ever really out of place but just isn’t capable of holding his own the same way Brown can.

TN: How do you see Dave Wommack’s defense attempting to contain Dalvin Cook, and are you concerned about Ole Miss’s secondary matching up with FSU’s pass catchers with all the attention in the backfield?

RCR: If I had to guess, I’d say they will try to force Cook to the middle. Ole Miss’ best position on defense is easily defensive tackle. If they can take the edges away from Cook, the Rebels give themselves their best chance at stopping him.

The situation at cornerback for the Rebels is a good one, but maybe we can just not talk about safety? Ole Miss is starting a true freshman and a true sophomore at the safety spots. Neither was heavily recruited, though the sophomore (Zedrick Woods) contributed some last season and didn’t look awful. Still, Florida State is likely to pick on the new safeties pretty successfully.

TN: Finally, give us a prediction for Monday night’s showdown. How do you see the game unfolding?

RCR: I imagine a back and forth effort through the first half with both teams scoring a good bit. In the second half, I think FSU will start to pick at weak spots of Ole Miss’ offense and put the game out of reach.

FSU by 10.

Big thanks to Juco All-American for the insight! Head over to Red Cup Rebellion for all things Ole Miss. Our answers to their questions are here.