If you’d told Ole Miss fans before the game against Georgia Southern that Chad Kelly would spend most of the second half watching from the bench, most would have gleefully interpreted that as a sign of a blowout win. Instead, it was a third-quarter knee injury that sidelined the Rebels’ star quarterback, who could only watch as his offense struggled to put away a bad Sun Belt team in an eventual 37-27 win.
The Rebels offense stumbled out of the gate, but, with Kelly suddenly clicking, found a rhythm early in the second quarter. Ole Miss erased a 14-3 deficit with four consecutive touchdown drives, establishing a 31-21 lead by halftime. Just as the flood gates appeared ready to burst, however, Kelly took a hard shot during the Rebels’ opening possession of the second half. He limped off the field favoring his knee and, after a brief trip to the locker room, spent the rest of the game helmet-less on the bench.
Without Kelly, the offense managed just two fields goals over its final four drives (excluding a clock-killing final drive that ended in a kneel down), though that certainly wasn’t the fault of backup quarterback Jason Pellerin, whose numbers don’t provide an accurate account of an impressively crisp relief effort. Pellerin completed just one of his five attempts, but had a perfectly-thrown potential touchdown pass clunk off the hands of Evan Engram and was tagged with an interception after a deep completion to A.J. Brown was wrestled into the hands of a defender.
Hugh Freeze confirmed after the game that Kelly injured his knee (there had briefly been rumors of a concussion) and will undergo an MRI later this week.
“Everything right now would just be speculation,” Freeze said during his postgame press conference, according to the Ole Miss Spirit. “I didn’t see it because it wasn’t a run play or anything. He just said after he stepped and threw somebody rolled into him. He says it’s on the outside part of his knee, which is typically not the worst of cases. But we won’t know until the MRI.”
Freeze also said that Pellerin would get all of the practice reps this week if Kelly is out, suggesting he’s already made the decision to leave the redshirt on Shea Patterson, the No. 1 quarterback recruit from the class of 2016. Not playing Patterson in earlier games was a risky gamble for this exact reason—it means he has no game experience and isn’t ready to be thrust into a starting role. Still, it also means a possible program-carrying quarterback won’t have to burn a year of eligibility during the tail end of a disappointing season.
“You hope you recruited some people behind your starter, and obviously we’ve got one here (Patterson) that we think’s going to be really good also,” Freeze explained after the game.” But there’s three games left in the season, and you certainly don’t want to pull that redshirt.”
Either way, a bad diagnosis for Kelly would leave the Rebs with just two scholarship quarterbacks, which explains Freeze’s postgame comment that he hopes Ryan Buchanan would consider suiting up next week. Yes, the Ryan Buchanan who quit the team during the offseason and is now attending Ole Miss as a normal student.
The loss of Kelly for any amount of time would pose a serious threat to the Rebels’ four-year bowl streak under Freeze. Ole Miss is 4-5 after the win over Georgia Southern, meaning they’ll need to find two wins in the remaining games against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt (which came close to beating Auburn on Saturday) and Mississippi State (which just shocked A&M).