On Saturday, the Ole Miss Rebels gained a much-needed win in their quest for bowl eligibility this season as they knocked off Georgia Southern, 37-27, at Vaught-Hemingway.
However, the cost of the win was a far greater price than head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff ever would have wanted to pay. In the game, senior quarterback Chad Kelly suffered a knee injury that will require season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL and lateral meniscus.
Kelly’s career in Oxford is over. Those six words are devastating for Rebels everywhere. Redshirt freshman Jason Pellerin is now the only scholarship quarterback on the Rebels’ roster who is available to play Saturday versus Texas A&M–unless Ole Miss decides to pull the redshirt off five-star freshman Shea Patterson, the top-ranked quarterback in the 2016 recruiting class.
To play or not to play Patterson
So, with that, Coach Freeze has a decision to make.
Does he pull the redshirt off Patterson with only three games remaining in 2016 or stick with Pellerin, who has been primarily used as running threat? In his weekly press conference today, Coach Freeze answered questions about burning Patterson’s redshirt, obviously agonizing over the decision. He made it clear he and his staff are carefully analyzing all options, taking into account what is best for both the team and the individual.
“All options are on the table sitting here, Monday morning. I would rule nothing out,” he said.
Freeze indicated that Patterson is more than willing to play, but explained that is not a decision the coach will make lightly. “He is ready to go and wants to play,” said Freeze.
The fifth-year Ole Miss head coach also acknowledged that there are many things to take into account. “You want to set a kid up for success. Do you want him to start his first game at A&M in front of 115,000? Or, at home next year?”
Reflections on Chad Kelly’s legacy at Ole Miss
While Ole Miss will name a new starter for Saturday’s game at some point, my first reaction is to reflect. To reflect on Kelly’s accomplishments and success since he arrived in January of 2015.
In less than two years as the starting quarterback, Kelly amassed a 14-8 record in his 22 starts. In 2015, he not only led Ole Miss to its first Sugar Bowl since 1970 (and was the first Rebel to be named MVP since Archie Manning in 1970), but he also helped the Ole Miss reach 10 wins for the first time since Eli Manning was under center.
Without Chad Kelly’s prolific production, success at such a level would not have been possible. He finished on top of the conference in passing yards (4,042) and passing touchdowns (31) a season ago, while rushing for another 10 scores. He exits this season as the conference’s leading passer, with 2,758 yards and is tied for the lead with 19 passing scores.
All in all, Kelly will leave Ole Miss having tallied 7,690 total yards and 65 total touchdowns in his brief career. His 6,800 passing yards are third all-time in the school record books. Perhaps most impressive, however, was his consistency as he threw a touchdown in all 22 games he played in a Rebel uniform.
Additionally, he holds the school record for 12, 300-yard passing games. Most everyone will remember his highlights, such as: beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa; beating Bama, Auburn and LSU in the same season; going on the road to claim the Egg Bowl trophy; and, setting a Sugar Bowl record with four touchdown passes.
But it has been Kelly’s relentless work ethic and dedication towards getting better each day and in every game that will forever endear him to Rebel nation.
Looking ahead for Kelly
Looking ahead, Kelly will soon have surgery and begin his recovery in preparation for next April’s NFL draft, where he is projected to be a second round pick (4th best QB available and 42nd best prospect overall) by CBSsports.com. Before the season, many publications recognized him for having one of the strongest arms in the county. That, plus his ability to make quick decisions and effectively run the up-tempo, spread offense, is what makes him very attractive to NFL teams looking to liven up their offensive attack. I fully expect he will find much success on Sundays in his future.
What’s ahead for Ole Miss?
For Ole Miss, the future – at least for the rest of this season – isn’t as easy to project. As I mentioned, Coach Freeze and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Dan Werner have a tough decision on their hands. They must decide whether Pellerin will be the quarterback who can get them to six wins with three games left on the schedule (A&M, Vanderbilt and State), or if they will call on Patterson to pull unexpected duty in his would-be redshirt season.
Pellerin has been on the field for SEC competition and has seen the speed in the conference. After the game against Georgia Southern, Pellerin said he is confident in his ability to lead the team, and his teammates and coaches indicated the same.
Meanwhile, throwing Patterson into the fire against Texas A&M, who features a fierce pass-rushing tandem and an experienced defensive coordinator in John Chavis, would be a tough task for anyone–even a five-star quarterback such as Patterson.
Whatever the decision is, we will likely know soon, as there is never time to sit too long on situations like this in the ever-challenging SEC. In his press conference today, Coach Freeze says he and the staff do not set the travel roster until Thursday, so there is still time to see how things play out in practice this week. Freeze mentioned that Markell Pack played quarterback in high school and that Evan Engram could throw the ball if needed. He also said Jeremy Liggins could be an emergency quarterback if called upon.
Thank you, Chad Kelly
Whoever takes over from this point forward at the quarterback position will have the full and complete support of Rebel fans–but, first, it is time to say goodbye to Chad Kelly.
Not only is he one of the best players in Ole Miss program history, but he is a great example of the fierce work ethic every coach wishes his players would possess. He also proved to be one of the top decisions of Hugh Freeze’s tenure in Oxford.
Coach Freeze said it best when asked how Chad will be thought of in years to come: “Chad will be remembered as one of the best competitors who has ever played football here.”
Thank you, Chad Kelly, for giving everything you had to Ole Miss football.
(Feature image credit: Amanda Swain, The Rebel Walk)