There was one moment in the third quarter against Georgia where we saw Chad Kelly’s over-aggression get the best of him. After extending the play by rolling out right, Ole Miss’ star quarterback pulled up and fired a pass back across the field into triple coverage, the ball skipping off the hands of Georgia defender and landing harmlessly on the turf.
That was the only notable mistake in an otherwise flawless outing from Kelly, who led his team to a redemptive 45-14 beatdown of the No. 12 Bulldogs. His final stat line—18-of-24 for 282 yards and two scores through the air—won’t blow you away, but that’s just three quarters worth of play (he piled up 233 of those yards and both touchdowns in the first two quarters before setting it on cruise control with a 31-0 halftime lead). The most impressive stat for a guy who coughed it up six times against Florida State and Bama, however, was the zeros in the turnover column.
Against FSU, we saw Kelly trying to force plays downfield instead of taking what the defense gave him. Against Georgia, we saw a poised and patient senior finding underneath receivers or tossing the ball out of bounds when nothing was there.
Not that he didn’t go downfield.
That play (which buried Georgia under a 24-0 deficit) shows an NFL scout everything they need to see from Chad: the pocket mobility, the athleticism, the CANNON of a right arm, the downfield accuracy.
A lot of Kelly’s success against UGA can be attributed to a much-improved effort from his offensive line. After being sacked five times against FSU and Bama, Chad went down just once on Saturday (and that was a weird botched play in the first quarter). A lot of that, of course, can be attributed to Georgia’s underwhelming pass rush, but it’s also possible that the Rebels’ O-line—which featured a lot of five-star freshman Greg Little at left tackle—is beginning to stabilize.
If that’s the case, the rest of the SEC better watch the hell out. As our own Will Gates pointed out heading into this game, Chad has been a very different player when given time to throw.
With a clean pocket, he does stuff like this:
The offensive line was also much better in run blocking, which finally allowed Hugh Freeze to maintain a balanced offensive approach throughout the course of the game. Ole Miss ran the ball 31 times to 30 passes, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Compare that to 2.7 yards per carry vs. FSU and 3.1 vs. Bama. True freshman D’Vaughn Pennamon, who’s been pressed into service by the losses of Jordan Wilkins and Eric Swinney, showed promise by averaging 6.1 yards on six carries and scoring a goal line (!) touchdown.
Speaking of running, Chad did a bit of that himself, ripping off a 41-yard touchdown scamper midway through the third quarter. It’s worth noting that the play was set up by a run-pass option earlier in the game. On the first drive of the second half, Kelly pulled up on this run-pass option and fed Van Jefferson for a 23-yard gain.
In the play above, the DB assigned to Jefferson crashed down to play Kelly on the run. Check out what happened when the Rebs run the same play again.
Weary of the pass option, the DB stays outside with the slot receiver, giving Chad a wide open lane to the end zone.
Saturday showed Freeze’s offense at its best. When the run game is competent enough to keep defenses honest and the O-line can give Kelly time in the pocket, this group is an efficient and explosive scoring machine. If the Rebels can maintain the consistency it showed against UGA, they’re still very much in the SEC title hunt.