Ole Miss faced a 3rd-and-17 on its own 18-yard line with less than a minute left in the third quarter. For the first time in the second half, you could feel the momentum swinging back toward the Tide, which, after cutting the lead to 13, had begun the ensuing possession with a tackle for loss and a sack. The home crowd at Bryant-Denny was roaring back to life. A banged-up Rebel O-line had three freshmen and a backup center staring up at the biggest, baddest defensive front in college football.
"If you're Chad Kelly, the way this series has gone, third and long, crowd back in the game, [you're looking for] a screen or a draw, something safe," Kirk Herbstreit cautioned from the broadcast booth. "You do not want to make a critical mistake." 2013 Hugh Freeze nodded in silent agreement from beyond the space-time continuum.
Instead, Kelly dropped back to pass. And we're not talking some dinky tunnel screen: with the exception of Jaylon Walton running a swing route, all of Swag's receivers ran routes at least seven yards downfield.
OK sure, the play ended in a second consecutive sack, but that's beside the point. The point is that just one SEC start into his Ole Miss career, Kelly has already earned Freeze's damn-near unconditional trust. Bo Wallace's turnover problem is often overstated, but do you think for a second that Freeze would have given Dr. Bo the opportunity to throw downfield in that situation?
Instead of holding onto the second hand for dear life and trying to milk the clock away, Freeze was refreshingly aggressive when Bama made late pushes. Twice in the fourth quarter the surging Tide rallied to within six points. Each time, the Rebs came out passing on their ensuing possession; on those two drives, Ole Miss threw the ball on five of its seven snaps. Only one of those throws was of the safe, high-percentage variety; the other four went for 104 yards and a touchdown.
Freeze's tendency to clam up and go conservative with his play calling late in close games has been a legitimate gripe through his first three years at the helm (think Vandy in 2012, State in 2013 or LSU last season). But maybe that's not an innate coaching flaw. Maybe that was a the result of Freeze's unstated wariness of Bo's interception problem. If Freeze trusts Kelly as much as he showed in Tuscaloosa, expect to see this offense stomping on the gas late in games instead of easing on the brake.