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Preview: Auburn will have hands full welcoming an Ole Miss squad at full strength

Michael Niziolek


Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly (10) runs for a short gain against Texas A&M during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015.
Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly (10) runs for a short gain against Texas A&M during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. AP Photo

The scariest part of Halloween for Auburn will be an Ole Miss’ starting lineup at full strength.

For the first time this season, the Rebels (6-2; 3-1 SEC) will have its two best players on the field together when it visits Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday.

Left tackle Laremy Tunsil returned to Ole Miss’ lineup last week in a win over Texas A&M. The junior was ineligible for the first seven weeks of the season due to an investigation over improper benefits by the NCAA.

He didn’t show any rust shutting down Texas A&M standout defensive end Myles Garrett in his return. The 6-foot-5, 305-pounder looked every bit the top NFL prospect scouts believe he is.

Rebels standout defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche didn’t get to see Tunsil’s debut as he sat out with a concussion. He has 17 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, with 1.5 sacks and four quarterback hits.

Nkemdiche suffered a concussion playing offense against Memphis two weeks ago, and the symptoms lingered through last weekend, but coach Hugh Freeze announced to Scout.com Wednesday the team’s medical staff had cleared the junior to play against Auburn.

“Rob’s been acclimated, he’s just got to be symptom free, which he is right now,” Freeze said. “Everything looks good with him.”

Running Rebels

Ole Miss played seven games without its best player on offense, and still was the SEC’s top offense by a fair margin.

The Rebels are averaging 41 points per game, and the only team in the conference to putting up more than 500 total yards of offense (514.8). They also have the best passing offense (339.8 yards per game), and most first downs (26 per game).

With Tunsil back in the fold, Auburn’s coaching staff doesn’t see an easy answer to slowing Ole Miss down.

“They are getting their offensive line back intact; you could see that last week with their run game, and they have a dual threat quarterback, they present a lot of challenges,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.

Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was impressed with how effectively first-year quarterback Chad Kelly was running the Rebels’ “explosive” offense.

“They play with great tempo and a lot of run-pass options as far as the quarterback is concerned,” Muschamp said. “He’s playing at a high level.”

Kelly is at the top of the SEC in passing with 2,475 yards. His 309 yards per game is more than 50 yards more than Mississippi State’s Dak Presscott, who is at No. 2 in the conference.

The junior college transfer has the benefit of some talented wide receivers on the edge in Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core and Quintavius Burdette.

“That entire receiving crew is outstanding,” Muschamp said.

Treadwell, who broke his ankle playing Auburn last year, is leading the SEC in receiving with 756 yards, and five touchdowns.

“He's one of the better players in the entire country,” Malzahn said. “He's a force, there's no doubt, and we've got to have our attention on him. He's a great player.”

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google

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