Imagine for a moment the uncanny focus needed to drown out 100,000 rabid Alabama fans who would just as well see you drawn, quartered, and thrown to the wolves. Imagine, if you can, unworldly decibels screaming into your ears and brain and chest cavity, rending you apart from within. Imagine now 10 of your comrades -- breathless, drenched, and exhausted -- looking to you for truth and safe passage from this Hell of Tuscaloosa.
This is the earth that Chad Kelly walked on Saturday night, unafraid and calm and awesome. That Bama's turnstile quarterback situation would doom them seems like a foregone conclusion after the fact. Cooper Bateman started and looked comme-si-comme-ça early, but Lane Kiffin just doesn't want to have nice things. Enter Jake Coker, then, who hucked two hilarious interceptions in the second half to pair excellently with Cooper Bateman's first-half vomit to Trae Elston and, well, maybe Bama shouldn't throw the ball so much anymore.
But while the Tide was struggling to rein in its two-headed turnover machine, Swag Kelly was slaying one of college football's mythical defenses. He shrugged off a slow first half to finish 18-of-33 for 346 yards and three touchdowns while running for another score -- all without coughing up a single turnover.
Let's take a look at his night.
A tale of two halves
Kelly's opening bids were stutter-ish, with the majority of his calls devoted to quick outs in the flat. His first real pickup came on the Rebs' first play of their second drive, when Chad zipped a beautiful rope to Evan Engram on the seam for a 22 yard first down. A truly wonderful instance of throw-and-catch, and utterly unsurprising to those who have been waiting for Engram to factor more consistently into the offense.
Still, though, besides a heroic run-then-jump touchdown, Chad only threw for 36 paltry yards in the first half on Saturday. No doubt Hugh Freeze felt a bit skittish in the early going, and so aggressive play calls in the face of an historically stingy Alabama secondary were to be expected. The offense didn't turn the ball over at all -- the Tide gave up five turnovers for 24 points -- and conservatism in attacking downfield was buoyed by stunning defense all night.
The tip-for-touchdown that never should have been
Had the Tide enjoyed the opening possession of the second half, who knows what would have happened. As it is, Swag and company puttered to their own 35 and then all hell broke loose:
That's 66 yards for a touchdown to Quincy Adeboyejo, who, if we're being honest, by some miracle of formation and route-running and pure instinct happened to be in the right place at the right time when it counted. There are no tribalisms or screaming in tongues rich enough to describe the elation felt when Quincy snagged that and ran, nor should there ever be.
But not just luck accounts for Chad's ridiculous second half. 305 yards and three touchdowns in the second half speaks more to Kelly's calm under fire than the fickle whims of chance, which, again if we're being honest, certainly swayed in Ole Miss' favor on Saturday. Take for instance the dubious ineligible receiver no-call on Kelly's second touchdown pass:
Certainly a procedural penalty could have been called here, but as Andy Hutchins points out, the ubiquitous spread offensive set has destabilized the very definition of "ineligible receiver downfield." Further, consider the stones on Chad Kelly to go full-tilt pop pass -- a bane to Alabama's defense -- on second and short with all of Tuscaloosa calling for blood. And the awareness to let fly at the exact last possible nanosecond so that on first viewing the referees errantly called an illegal forward pass.
The most unassailable and aesthetically pleasing score of the night was Ole Miss' last, when Swag connected with Laquon Treadwell for a 24 yard touchdown rainbow:
Look at that release! And the placement! That's exactly where that ball needs to be on that play: right on the defensive back's helmet and let Treadwell fight for the catch. It was here that "Could we actually do this?" turned into "HOLY HELL WE'RE ACTUALLY DOING THIS" and Laquon went dancing on the sideline. It was here that Swag slew the beast.
The Rebs have scored 191 points in three games, and it's telling that this season's bout with the Tide required 43 points to win. The defense bended without breaking completely, and Gary Wunderlich showed that, along with Chad Kelly, Freeze's guys have ice in their veins. Roll Damn Upset.