OXFORD, Miss. — There’s no subtlety about the 2016 Ole Miss Rebels. It’s as if they play with the fast-forward button stuck.
They strike quickly. They blow leads quickly. They entertain and electrify. They are never methodical and occasionally are maddening. They’re fun and fearless. Everything is fast and exciting, most notably senior quarterback Chad Kelly and his gifted group of wide receivers and tight ends.
Ole Miss has no chill, and those attending Rebels games had better show up on time. After surging to a 31-0 halftime lead Saturday against No. 12 Georgia, Ole Miss has now outscored its opponents 107-33 in the first half this season. The nation’s best first-half team showed it could finish a game, too, keeping the pedal down in a 45-14 victory over the shell-shocked Bulldogs.
The Rebels could end up being strong finishers to a season that began with frustration. Anyone who watched Kelly and his pass-catching targets toy with a flimsy Georgia defense knows Ole Miss will be a handful for every team it faces the rest of the way. Ole Miss needs Alabama to stumble twice to regain true traction in the SEC West race, but Kelly and Co. could torment the defenses of Arkansas, LSU and Texas AM.
Kelly’s mistakes certainly cost Ole Miss in losses to Florida State and Alabama, but he’s still the SEC’s best playmaking signal-caller. It doesn’t hurt to have arguably the nation’s best tight end in Evan Engram and a group of receivers — Damore’ea Stringfellow, Quincy Adeboyejo, DaMarkus Lodge, Van Jefferson — who catch just about anything thrown their way.
A play early in the second quarter underscored just why no one should dismiss Ole Miss the rest of the way. Georgia linebacker Lorenzo Carter had a direct shot on Kelly, but the quarterback wriggled free and flicked the ball from his own 41-yard line into the end zone — easy, right? — where Georgia’s Juwuan Briscoe was face-guarding Lodge. No matter. Touchdown. Lodge might be Ole Miss’ fifth-best receiver. Engram, who came in leading FBS tight ends with 20 receptions, showed why he’s better than most wide receivers with a leaping 9-yard scoring grab, also in the first half.
Ole Miss’ perimeter depth is staggering, even for talented SEC defenses. Opponents must account for so much on the perimeter that they become vulnerable at their core. The result: 41-yard touchdown runs like Kelly’s in the third quarter.
It won’t be this easy every Saturday for the Rebels. Kelly will make mistakes. Upcoming opponents will generate more resistance than Georgia. A Rebels defense that mauled Jacob Eason and Georgia all day will spring some leaks
The only guarantees? After a 1-2 start, Ole Miss isn’t going away. The Rebels are keeping the pedal down. Don’t look away, you’ll miss the most exciting show in the SEC.