Position-by-position edge: Ole Miss at Mississippi State
Taking a position-by-position look at Ole Miss at Mississippi State, here’s who has the edge in Saturday’s showdown between the No. 18 Rebels and No. 21 Bulldogs:
QUARTERBACK — Mississippi State: The margin here is razor thin with the way Chad Kelly has been playing lately for the Rebels. We’re siding with Dak Prescott, based on the depth of the track record. The Mississippi State senior has commandeered the school record book and is having his best season yet this fall, leading the SEC in completion percentage, while ranking second in passing yards and throwing just three interceptions in 393 pass attempts. Kelly had a spell in late October in which he threw multiple interceptions in three straight games, but hasn’t thrown any while accounting for 10 total touchdowns in his past two games.
RUNNING BACKS — Ole Miss: Not a position of strength for either team, but the Rebels get a little more production. Prescott leads the Bulldogs in rushing by more than 150 yards, and no Mississippi State running back has more than two rushing touchdowns. Brandon Holloway is the team’s biggest threat out of the backfield and is more of a weapon in the passing game.
Kelly has been the Rebels’ most effective ballcarrier in the past two games, rushing for nearly 200 yards and five totals touchdowns against Arkansas and LSU. He leads the team with nine rushing touchdowns, while senior Jaylen Walton has rushed for nearly 600 yards.
WIDE RECEIVERS, TIGHT END — Push: With all due respect to Arkansas’ emergent group and the cast of all-star recruits at Texas A&M, these are arguably the best receiving corps in the conference. Ole Miss is led by Laquon Treadwell, the SEC leader in receptions and receiving yards, while five other Rebels have at least 29 receptions and 325 yards on the season.
The Bulldogs don’t go quite as deep, but will spread it around liberally. Junior Fred Ross has ascended to the upper echelon of receivers in the conference with at least eight receptions and 100 yards in three straight games. He’s caught at least 10 passes three times this season, and leads the team with 69 receptions for 816 yards on the season. De’Runnya Wilson remains the team’s go-to touchdown target, with nine TDs among his 50 receptions on the year.
OFFENSIVE LINE — Ole Miss: The overall body of work between the two teams is similar, but the Rebels have become significantly better since the return of All-America left tackle Laremy Tunsil. The Rebels have a slight edge in the advanced metrics for run blocking, and have allowed seven fewer sacks on the season. Mississippi State got whipped up front by Alabama, giving up nine sacks in the loss, but only let Arkansas get to the quarterback once last week.
DEFENSIVE LINE — Push: Led by athletic groups up front that excel at making plays in the backfield, Ole Miss and Mississippi State rank just behind the conference leaders in tackles for loss with 84 and 85 on the season, respectively. As a team, the Bulldogs are more effective at getting to opposing quarterbacks, while the Rebels have been better against the run.
Manny Diaz’s group showed it can also stuff stout running games as they shut down Arkansas’ Alex Collins last week. Defensive end A.J. Jefferson leads the team with 13.5 tackles for loss, while Chris Jones and Nick James give the Bulldogs an athletic pair in the middle.
Ole Miss junior Robert Nkemdiche is the kind of talent that every opposing team game-plans around, while sophomore end Marquis Haynes leads the Rebels with 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
LINEBACKERS — Mississippi State: Richie Brown and Beniquez Brown might be the happiest people in Starkville about Diaz’s return to the Bulldogs. The defensive coordinator’s aggressive schemes suit the pair well and have resulted in more than 170 tackles and 18 tackles for loss split more or less evenly between the two.
The status of Ole Miss senior Denzel Nkemdiche was still up in the air on Monday. The Rebels’ leading tackler prior to missing last week’s game, Nkemdiche was hospitalized for an undisclosed personal matter and remained under medical care earlier this week. DeMarquis Gates played well in his stead against LSU, earning SEC Defensive Player of the Week honor after posting 14 tackles.
SECONDARY — Push: The Rebels rank next-to-last in the SEC in passing yards allowed, but that’s partially due to the fact that Ole Miss opponents have attempted so many passes. In terms of completion percentage, passing efficiency and passing yards per attempt, Ole Miss actually ranks marginally higher than the Bulldogs. Neither unit is devoid of individual talent, but ideally, both teams would prefer to cover their relative deficiencies on the back end with overwhelming pressure up front.