When the news hit that Chad Kelly was out for the year, we quickly put together a summary of what in general made Kelly’s career at Ole Miss so special. Now that it’s been a few days, I’ve had some time to dig into the numbers and find more ways of highlighting his importance to the Ole Miss offense.
I mentioned before how he was able to significantly elevate the offense once he took the reins as quarterback, specifically how the Rebels jumped from 35th to 9th in Offensive S&P+ from 2014 to 2015. Here’s a more detailed look at that improvement.
*Garbage time is filtered out here, which explains why some games have more data than others.
The offensive was generally competent in 2014, but there were long stretches throughout the season that they experienced close to no growth, even in times of winning. The graph above shows multiple periods in which the offense essentially flatlined for part of a game, either forcing the defense to pick up the slack (against Boise State, Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi State) or resulting in a loss (LSU, Arkansas, and TCU). The Peach Bowl was an extreme example, in that the offense couldn’t generate a successful play for most of the game.
Chad Kelly’s presence offered more stability to an offense that was struggling to move the ball on a consistent basis. The graph above shows steadier growth over the course of the season, with some occasional sputtering from an efficiency standpoint along the way. The droughts were never quite as prolonged as they were in 2014, and the offense eventually went into cruise control once they reached the Arkansas game. Overall, Ole Miss went from ranking 33rd and 42nd in success rate and explosiveness to second in both categories in 2015 once adjusting for difficulty of opponent.
Much has been said about the quality of defenses Kelly has gone up against, but here’s a more complete picture. To get a deeper perspective, I picked out some notable quarterbacks from the other Power 5 conferences and looked at how their opponents ranked in terms of Defensive Passing S&P+, taking in all games from this and last season.
Kelly faced the toughest defenses out of anyone else overall, and in some ways, it’s not even close. The graph above takes into account even the cupcake games, but when you look at the top five opponents for each QB, no one touched Chad, as the best secondaries he went up against ranged from first to 11th in the country.
It’s worth noting here that this isn’t really an exercise of picking out convenient numbers that make Kelly look better than the rest. It’s more to show that he was a great player beyond just providing an entertainment factor, and the comparisons to other great quarterbacks around the country are valid.
Here’s how these quarterbacks have fared when it comes to passing success rate. When taking into account all games over the past two seasons, he’s second only to Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. If you’re curious, he ranked fourth in ESPN’s Total QBR in 2015, and is currently 12th in 2016. His efficiency has taken a hit partly due to his own regression, but also as a result of higher passing volume because of lack of offensive balance at Ole Miss.
Outside of just being able to keep the team on schedule with his arm, his ability to generate explosive plays with the deep ball provided a new dimension to the offense. In 2015, he ranked second in the country with a deep-adjusted completion rate of 53 percent.
For good measure, here’s how he has ranked in passing success rate in his own conference. Among quarterbacks who have gotten significant snaps both seasons, it’s really not close.