After close win over Vandy, Kelly and Rebels set sights on Gators
Chad Kelly may not have had his best game at quarterback for third-ranked Ole Miss Saturday night against the confident Vanderbilt Commodores, but he delivered when it mattered most and the Rebels defeated Vandy 27-16 at Vaught-Hemingway in Oxford.
Early in the first quarter, Kelly found wide out Damore’ea Stringfellow for the 20-yard touchdown, which gave the Rebels (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) an early 7-3 lead. But his job was far from done. In the fourth quarter, after Vandy cut the Rebels’ lead to 20-16 off Tommy Openshaw’s 34-yard field goal, Ole Miss would look to Kelly to lead the offense on a game-sealing drive.
Kelly and the Rebels come through in the clutch
The junior college transfer from East Mississippi Community College took the Rebels on a pivotal 9-play, 80-yard drive late in the final quarter.
After two big runs by senior running back Jaylen Walton, who rushed for 138 yards on 21 carries, Kelly rushed for 11 yards to Vanderbilt’s 3-yard line to set up Walton’s 3-yard rushing touchdown.
This put the score at 27-16 with 6:46 remaining in the game, ultimately giving the Rebels the breathing room they needed.
Chad Kelly: “That’s on me, personally”
Head coach Hugh Freeze saw a few errors he was not accustomed to seeing his quarterback make, such as overthrowing targeted receivers and holding onto the football longer than expected. Kelly, who completed 24 of 42 passes for 321 yards and threw two interceptions, saw the same mistakes and took responsibility.
“We just got to prepare better. They did some stuff that we were not prepared for and they showed it in a couple of games last year, but they didn’t show it at all this year,” Kelly said about Vanderbilt’s defensive scheme.
So, that’s on me personally. I take full responsibility, but a win is a win and we just have to get better and get ready for Florida. — Chad Kelly
Rebels forced into 3rd-and-long situations
Throughout Saturday night, the Commodores (1-3, 0-2 SEC) were in a two-man under coverage and kept two safeties deep in the backfield to prevent Kelly from throwing the deep ball that was showcased in the first three games. Vanderbilt’s “two-man twist,” as Freeze referred to the stunt, forced either Ole Miss’ running game to pick up the pace or Kelly to throw short slant passes to his slot receivers.
As a result of the Commodores’ intention of stopping the Rebels’ deep passing attack, they forced Ole Miss into a lot of 3rd and long situations. The Rebels didn’t perform well in those predicaments, going 3-for-13 on third downs.
“We didn’t either have a good call for it, or we didn’t win in the areas we needed to win in. The whole thing needs to be evaluated,” Freeze said about the third down struggles. “Coach Dan Werner does a great job planning for those. There are times I will have to help him if need be, but Vanderbilt had a good plan tonight. We had some bad calls on third down so we had very little chance at times.”
Freeze credits Vandy
After coming off a huge win in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, some were starting to guess that the win over the Crimson Tide was the cause of the Rebels’ topsy-turvy performance against a Vanderbilt team Ole Miss was projected to defeat by 26.5 points.
But neither Kelly nor Freeze used the 43-37 win over Alabama as an excuse for the team’s performance.
“Again, a lot of credit goes to Vanderbilt,” Freeze said. “They are a better team than people give them credit for. Last week’s game took a lot out of us. We got back to Oxford at 5 a.m. We had a lot of banged up kids that didn’t get to practice some during the week. All of that is something every other team has to go through,” he added.
“Did that have something to do with some of our play? I don’t know. I just know if that is the case we are going to have a long year. This is week three and we don’t have an open date until about 10 games in. We are in for a grind. We have to prepare better.”
Feature image credit: Amanda Swain