Kelly leads No. 17 Ole Miss to 73-21 win over Fresno State
Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze was fairly confident about who his starting quarterback would be prior to the Rebels’ season opener against UT-Martin. Following Ole Miss’ victory Saturday over Fresno State, there is no doubt who the starter will be in next week’s matchup against No. 2-ranked Alabama.
It’s Chad Kelly, and on Saturday against Fresno State the former East Mississippi Community College product proved why he’s worthy of being the quarterback under center for the Rebels.
“Chad Kelly is the starter,” Freeze said after 17th-ranked Ole Miss defeated Fresno State 73-21 in front of 60,302 screaming fans. “I said yesterday, to the ESPN crew, that the job is his to lose,” Freeze told the media at his post game press conference. “Chad has certainly done nothing to put himself out of the job, so he is the starter. I expect that to continue. I still like Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, also.”
Kelly became the first SEC quarterback since Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in 2012 to be responsible for five touchdowns in a half. Kelly was also part of scoring history within the football program. Saturday marked the first time the Rebels have scored 49 points or more in back-to-back games in one season.
Ole Miss is also the first team in SEC history to score 73 points in back-to-back games–and the first in any conference to do so since Houston in 1968.
Kelly completed 20 of 25 passes for 346 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for one score at the 8:26 mark of the first quarter. Ole Miss finished with 607 yards of offense, which is the second week for the Rebels to have at least 600 yards of total offense.
“I think we’re doing well,” Kelly said. “We just have to make sure we’re hitting on all cylinders every play of the game and that we don’t take anything for granted.”
The Bulldogs (1-1) were looking to cut their deficit to 35-21 in the third quarter, but freshman quarterback Chason Virgil’s pass on 2nd and 9 on the Rebels’ 16 was picked off by middle linebacker C.J. Johnson and returned 70 yards to Fresno State’s 20.
The Landshark defense had three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Breeland Speaks finished with nine total tackles.
Ole Miss took advantage of Johnson’s interception with a 20-yard, 6-play drive with defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche running it in from the one to record his second offensive touchdown of the season. In the Rebels’ season opener against the Skyhawks, Nkemdiche caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Buchanan.
On the Bulldogs’ ensuing drive, Trae Elston picked off Virgil and returned it 38-yards for his second interception returned for a score this season.
That made it 49-14 with 9:39 left in the third quarter.
“They trust me and I appreciate it,” Virgil said of his Fresno State coaches. “I can’t make those turnovers, but it means a lot to know that I have offense and coaches trust.”
Before the quarter ended, Ole Miss running back Akeem Judd slashed through the middle for a 27-yard score, which gave Ole Miss four rushing scores on the afternoon and a comfortable 56-14 lead. Then Fresno State’s Virgil, who completed 12 of his 18 passes for 140 yards, found senior running back Marteze Waller clear on the left sideline for the 7-yard touchdown to make it 56-21, Ole Miss.
That would be the last time Fresno State hit the scoreboard.
Waller, who came into the game at No. 7 among all active FBS players in career rushing yards (2,342) and No. 9 in career yards per carry (5.9), finished the game with 104 yards on 28 carries.
The Rebels’ offense added three more scores in the final quarter to seal the win and place its main focus on the Crimson Tide. “It’s going to be electrifying. It’s one of my favorite places to play,” said defensive back Chief Brown, who picked off Virgil for a 22-yard touchdown interception return. “The fans are so loud and genuine. It’s just a good atmosphere to play in.”
During fall camp, Freeze stated he wanted an up-tempo offense this season with steady play from the starting quarterback. Kelly gave him exactly what he was looking for, leading Ole Miss on five scoring drives in the first half with patience in the pocket. Kelly threw four touchdowns and ran one in from the 4-yard line in the first half to cap off a 5-play, 59-yard drive with 1:57 used up on the clock.
Kelly wasn’t finished there.
He found wide receiver Cody Core open down the sideline for a 33-yard gain to set up his second passing touchdown of the first quarter to Quincy Adeboyejo, who was left wide open in the middle for the uncontested catch. Kelly and Adeboyejo were a tandem in the first quarter, connecting again for a 50-yard touchdown to put the Rebels up 28-0.
Adeboyejo finished with a career-high 120 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again until late in the second half when Ryan Buchanan was picked off by Shannon Edwards, who took it 56-yards down the sideline for Fresno State’s first score of the game. After Buchanan threw a pick six, Kelly checked back into the game and led Ole Miss on its final scoring drive of the first half.
Kelly found Adeboyejo again for a 44-yard score to top off an 8-play, 75-yard drive. During the drive, Kelly completed 4 of his 5 passes for 72 yards. Before the half ended, the Bulldogs were able to find consistency on offense with Virgil throwing under center.
Virgil led Fresno State on its best drive of the game (10-plays, 82-yards) to cut the deficit to 35-14. The Bulldogs starting quarterback Zack Greenlee was benched after failing to put the Bulldogs in scoring position. Greenlee threw for only 13 yards on 3 of 4 passing.
The Rebels face No. 2 Alabama Saturday, September 19 in Tuscaloosa at 8:00 p.m. CT.
(Feature image credit: Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)