1) Ole Miss went into this season with a bit of a QB race, but Chad Kelly has rightly cemented his place as the starter by now. What does he do in particular that gives him the edge?
There was a quarterback race, but it seemed to be pretty much decided throughout the entirety of Fall camp that Chad Kelly was the guy. He just has excellent arm strength and solid accuracy, particularly on the deep ball. The other options at the position were a bit flawed: one seemed unable to push the ball downfield, and the other apparently simply cannot wrap his head around the offensive playbook.
But yeah, Chad Kelly has been great so far. Over the last couple of weeks, he has made some stupid decisions that have led to picks, but that wasn't really a problem earlier. The odd thing is that at times he'll make excellent decisions but then turn right around and throw the ball directly to a defender on the next play. Still, there's little to complain about when he's leading the league in so many categories (passing yards, passing touchdowns, QBR).
2) Robert Nkemdiche missed last week for concussion protocols. Is he expected back full speed this week? How often has Ole Miss been using him offensively as they did early in the year?
He has been cleared to play in this game, which is huge, huge news. Nkemdiche was actually expected to play against A&M until he woke up on gameday with a headache. Apparently he's all better now. Nkemdiche is a physical freak, something we've all known for a while, but he has really become a complete player this season. On plays when he's not at least double teamed, he's collapsing the pocket immediately and just wrecking the backfield.
His use in the offense is significantly overblown. Nkemdiche has five touches on offense. His four runs have gone for -2 yards total. It's a gimmick that just doesn't really work.
3) Ole Miss beat Bama in Tuscaloosa and then lost big to Florida and then lost at Memphis. What have been the difference makers in going between that extreme high and then the extreme low?
Well, it's safe at this point to say that there was a significant element of luck against Alabama. Ole Miss is capable of playing great football, but that particular day, everything went in their favor. There are major struggles when the Rebels try to run in short yardage, and those problems were greatly magnified when so many offensive linemen went out with injury or were deemed ineligible by the NCAA. Against Memphis, only two offensive linemen were actual starters (when everyone is healthy). Freeze and staff had some questionable playcalling, but ultimately, they just faced an NFL quarterback and couldn't generate yardage on the ground.
Against Florida, there was a terrible string of bad luck on the first few drives (including starting running back Jaylen Walton essentially handing a defensive lineman the ball on the Ole Miss 30), and the Rebels just couldn't recover after a quick start by Florida.
4) Hugh Freeze slowed his offense down some over the past few years. Is it still slower, or has he picked the pace back up more this season?
He's moving pretty fast. Like Malzahn's, Freeze's offense moves fast when it's working. When they're struggling to move the ball, they slow it down to give the defense some time to rest. It can be frustrating, but it certainly makes sense.
5) How big was getting Laremy Tunsil back last week? Was he already in form, or did he look a bit rusty?
He's the best offensive lineman in football, so his addition is very welcomed. When Tunsil was in the game against A&M, he was dominant. He was called for one hold (a valid call), but other than that, he really abused Myles Garrett. Tunsil is just uncannily good at football.
The problem against A&M was his conditioning. Tunsil had to come off the field for several drives, something that didn't happen at all last year. Hopefully he can stay out there a little more against Auburn this week. When he's on the field, he significantly improves both the passing and running games.
6) What are your thoughts on the game?
I go back and forth on this one. You mentioned in your response to my questions that it's tough for you to envision an Auburn blowout. It's not that tough for me. Sure, Ole Miss is supposed to win. We just have no idea which team will show up. Hugh Freeze's teams have a habit of inexplicably losing by a ton of points several times a year. Will this be one of those times?
Ole Miss is capable of blowing Auburn out, but that has only happened against terrible teams and a Texas A&M team that simply could not throw the ball. It's tough to imagine this game being a 20+ point Ole Miss win.
I think it's going to be a really close game. Ultimately, I imagine the game will be decided by whether the Ole Miss defense has found itself after a rough start to the year but a solid outing against A&M. I'll say Ole Miss by 4.