Chad Kelly prepared for early challenge against Florida State
OXFORD, MS. – Heading into the 2016 season, the Ole Miss football team faces a gauntlet of talent in the month of September, but Chad Kelly appears ready for the challenge.
Last season, the senior quarterback didn’t see a stout defense until week three when the Rebels toppled eventual national champion Alabama. The Crimson Tide finished the year ranked first in sacks (52) but only managed to sack Kelly twice as he led Ole Miss to its second-consecutive victory over Nick Saban’s team.
Now, the Rebels start the season with a Florida State defense that finished 2015 ranked 35th in sacks (32). With week one of the college football season pitting two preseason top 15 programs against one another, Ole Miss is preparing to hit the ground running.
“We know Florida State is going to be a great team. They are always a really good team in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference),” Kelly said. “They are well-coached and they have good players. So, the mindset we have had is that we’ve just got to work hard and keep on working.”
Chad Kelly is the embodiment of a strong work ethic.
Chad Kelly, Ole Miss QB
This season, the Seminoles’ defense will be anchored by senior defensive end Demarcus Walker and sophomore defensive end Josh Sweat. Walker had a solid junior season with Florida State, posting single-season career-highs in tackles (58), tackles for losses (15.5), sacks (10.5), pass break-ups (five) and forced fumbles (four).
Sweat played in all of the Seminoles’ 13 games (started in nine) last season, posting 41 tackles, five tackles for losses, two sacks, an interception, three pass break-ups, three quarterbacks hurries and three fumble recoveries.
Another type of challenge
Kelly now must proceed into 2016 without junior running back Jordan Wilkins, who was declared academically ineligible for the 2016 regular season following an administrative error by the university. With Wilkins out of the starting lineup, the returning Ole Miss backs—senior Akeem Judd, redshirt freshman Eric Swinney, sophomore D.K. Buford and junior Eugene Brazley—will have to step up.
“It’s a big loss,” said Kelly of Wilkins’ absence. “It stinks that it happened that way, but things happen for a reason. He has had a great attitude. We will definitely miss him. We are playing this year for him to get back. It is what it is. It happened.”
Under NCAA rules, Wilkins could play at the end of the regular season. “We are playing for the playoffs in hopes letting him play this season,” said Kelly.
For his part, Kelly has been impressed with all the running backs who have participated in camp, especially Brazley, who played in six games last season. The New Orleans, Louisiana native finished the 2015 season with 222 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries.
Brazley’s top game came last season against New Mexico State when he rushed for a career-high 98 yards, including a career-high 78-yard sprint for the final score of the game.
“A different type of quickness,” was Kelly’s assessment of Brazley. “He will stick his nose into some things, but I think he’s just a really elusive back and can make plays with his feet.”
Focusing on one game at a time
As Kelly has always done in the past, he will prepare each week only for the next opponent on the team’s schedule. His mindset has drastically changed from a year ago when he came to Oxford feeling as if he had something to prove. Heading into his final season, Kelly seems more focused than ever before—and he will never overlook an opponent.
Kelly preparing offense to go toe-to-toe with Florida State’s defense
As he’s preparing his wide receivers for the fourth ranked Florida State Seminoles’ defense on Sept. 5, Kelly’s goal is to complete every single pass he throws to his receivers with no interceptions.
The 6-foot-2, 224-pound signal caller likes the depth he has at the wide receiver position. Though it is not yet clear if any of the incoming standout recruits — A.J. Brown, Tre Nixon and D.K. Metcalf — will redshirt, Kelly has a bevy of returning talent to target: junior Damore’ea Stringfellow, senior Quincy Adeboyejo, senior Derrick Jones, junior Markell Pack, redshirt freshman Van Jefferson and sophomore DaMarkus Lodge, who will all see playing time this season.
Adeboyejo has more-than-enough experience under his belt to become Kelly’s No. 1 target. Adeboyejo played in all 13 games (started nine) last season, finishing second on the team in receiving yards (604), receptions (38) and touchdowns (seven).
Chad Kelly on Quincy Adeboyejo
And to Kelly, experience means everything.
“Oh, it’s huge,” Kelly said when asked about the experience the wide receivers have. “Those guys know what they are doing out there and for them not to have to think anymore and just go out and play is big time. That’s really where you are trying to get to when you play football.”
The No. 11 Rebels face the No. 4 Florida State Seminoles at 7:00 p.m. (CT) in Orlando, Florida at Camping World Stadium. The game will be televised by ESPN.
Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men’s basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.