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Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly could be in for a huge game against Georgia

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The Bulldogs defensive front probably won't be able to generate the same level of pressure as FSU and Bama, which could give Kelly the time he needs to pick them apart on the back end.

Joe Murphy/Getty Images

So far this season, there’s been huge variance in Ole Miss’s ability to move the ball depending on whether the defense delivers an effective pass rush. With a shaky offensive line facing two of the best defensive fronts in the country against Florida State and Alabama, Chad Kelly experienced unprecedented drops in production when under pressure.

Fortunately for Ole Miss, Georgia's D-line won't bring the same level of production when it visits Oxford for a top-20 showdown on Saturday. If Kelly's offensive line can do a better job in protection and give him time to throw, he could be in for the best game of the season.

Before we dive into it, let's go over the definitions of a couple of key metrics that will be used in this post:

Passing downs are defined as second down with at least 8 yards to go or third/fourth down with at least 5 yards to go.

An offense’s success rate is a way of measuring how well the offense stays on schedule each down. Football Outsiders defines a successful play as one of the following: gaining 50 percent of the yards you need on first down, 70 percent on second down, or 100 percent on third/fourth down.

Chad can go off if the offensive line minimizes pressure.

The stat that everyone loves to throw around is his nation-leading QB rating when he had more than 2.5 seconds to throw in 2015. This season tells a similar story, but it’s highlighted even more by the quality of secondaries he’s gone up against.

It may a little generous to focus too much solely on Kelly’s numbers when not under pressure, but judging by last season, there shouldn’t be this big of a drop-off compared to what he’s experienced against Alabama and Florida State this year. I mentioned before that he ranked highly in terms of how little his QB rating dropped when being pursued, but here’s a more detailed look at the splits from 2015.

Last season, Chad Kelly ranked fourth in the country in number of times pressured, so it’s not like we’re working with a conveniently small sample size. There’s plenty of reason to believe that his numbers will find some stability when he’s going up against defenses that aren’t quite as stacked on the line. Regardless of whether Georgia can effectively put pressure on Kelly, Alabama and FSU had strong enough fronts that there wasn’t much of a tradeoff between sending extra players into the backfield and leaving the secondary vulnerable. This could be a problem for the Bulldogs, even if they have one of the better safety units in the conference.

Georgia’s defensive front hasn’t produced much thus far.

As plentiful in blue-chippers the Georgia defensive line may be, it doesn’t boast a ton of experience. No lineman other than Trenton Thompson and John Atkins picked up more than three tackles last season, and Atkins is the only upperclassman in the bunch. It also doesn’t help that UGA has to find new sources of production at linebacker in replacing three of the top four leading tacklers at the position from 2015.

2015

2016

Passing downs sack rate

9.3% (27th nationally)

6.7% (71st)

Standard downs sack rate

2.6% (116th)

0.0% (tied for last, lol)

Kirby Smart has maintained that the shortage in sacks isn’t entirely indicative of a struggling pass rush, but there’s more evidence they haven’t effectively pressured opposing quarterbacks. Georgia’s defense has recorded three quarterback hurries this season, all coming against FCS opponent Nicholls State. For a point of reference, Ole Miss put up nine total hurries against the loaded offensive lines of Florida State and Alabama. The fact that they couldn’t generate much pressure against a rebuilding Missouri offensive line bodes well for the Rebels. Provided that Matt Luke moves on from the beautiful tragedy that is Rod Taylor at left tackle and replaces him with five-star freshman Greg Little, the Rebels’ offensive line should improve.

Ole Miss should pass frequently on early (standard) downs.

Georgia’s pass rush is tied closely to their coverage, so this gap in sack rates between passing and standard downs may have to do with whether they’re anticipating a pass or a run. Even so, opponents have run on the Bulldogs only 57 percent of the time on standard downs this season (73rd in the country) so Smart should have eventually recognized opportunities to send rushers at different stages of a drive. Hugh Freeze has a chance to take advantage of Georgia’s tendency to hold back on standard downs by throwing early, when it’s less expected. Ole Miss threw on 55 percent of standard downs against Bama and FSU (17th), and you could make the argument that they should do it even more this Saturday based on what we’ve seen so far. Over these two games, the Rebels got the yards they needed 56 percent of the time when passing in these early situations, as opposed 22 percent when running.

It's entirely possible that Georgia’s lack of a pass rush through three games has just been a side effect of new players struggling to immediately replace last year’s production. There’s more than a good chance Ole Miss voluntarily turns into a one-dimensional offense on Saturday, which may ease the play-calling for Smart’s defensive staff. Either way, it’s hard not to picture Kelly having a big day against Georgia if enough conceivable events pan out.