Ole Miss has lost its fair share of significant players this season, from starting corner Ken Webster to promising young offensive weapons Eric Swinney and D.K. Metcalf to a good chunk of the offensive line, which saw three starters sit out Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern. It’s the latest injury, however, that it truly can’t afford: the school confirmed in a release that star quarterback Chad Kelly will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL and lateral meniscus.
Kelly didn’t return against Georgia Southern after taking a hard but rather innocuous hit during the third quarter of Saturday’s 37-27 win. Hugh Freeze said after the game that Kelly would undergo an MRI on Sunday.
It’s a crushing blow to a team that once fancied itself an SEC West contender but now finds itself fighting for bowl eligibility. Ole Miss needs to win two of its final three games against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, a task that was far from guaranteed even before the news on Kelly.
Its hard to oversell Kelly’s significance to this offense. Sure, he hasn’t been as accurate with the deep ball and has shown regression in decision making this season, but he’s still accounted for 74 percent of Ole Miss’ total offensive yardage and 60 percent of its touchdowns.
Ole Miss does have Shea Patterson, the country’s top quarterback recruit, but Freeze said after Saturday’s game that he doesn’t want to pull Patterson’s redshirt. If that’s the case, it means it’ll be up to Jason Pellerin to steer the ship in Kelly’s absence. Pellerin, a redshirt freshman, has seen a fair share of playing time this season but as a situational runner, not a true quarterback. He completed just one of his five passes after taking over against Georgia Southern, though that had more to do with his receivers than himself (A.J. Brown had a well-thrown deep ball wrestled out of his grasp and Evan Engram let a perfectly-placed pass slip through his hands in the end zone).
Still, Pellerin obviously has nowhere near the arm talent of Kelly and his presence behind center will drastically change the offensive strategy. Ole Miss just became a hell of a lot more reliant on the run game, which is bad news for a team that came into the weekend ranked 94th in rushing success rate and has a banged up offensive line. They were already struggling to make consistent progress on the ground, and that was with the threat of Kelly’s deep ball keeping them out of the box.
This is also a blow to Kelly’s draft stock. Before the injury, he was projected as a second-rounder by CBS Sports and ESPN’s Todd McShay ranked him among the second tier of quarterback prospects behind Deshaun Watson, Brad Kaaya and DeShone Kizer. While the degree to which NFL scouts are truly worried about Kelly’s “maturity issues” can be debated, there’s no doubt that a serious knee injury will cause scouts pause.