Evan Engram came out of his cut on a corner route and looked back at Chad Kelly.
He leaped above Georgia free safety Quincy Mauger in the back right corner of the south end zone. He high-pointed a 9-yard ball that Kelly tossed and came down with it with two feet in bounds. It was Kelly’s second touchdown pass of the game, and it put the Rebels up 31-0 with 43 seconds left in the first half. Engram had six catches for 95 yards.
“That’s a read for the quarterback. If it’s zone he’s going to hit the underneath routes and if it’s man he’s going to throw it up and let me go make a play,” Engram said. “As soon as I turned, I knew Chad was going to throw it, so I had to make a play for my team.”
But it was the scenario that was of significance. Just a few minutes prior, Ole Miss yet again found itself with a sizable lead, up 24-0 at the time, and the football with just over two minutes in the first half. It was these waining minutes of the opening half that led to its downfall against Florida State and Alabama. It was in these minutes that the Rebels had twice left the door open, only to later see it kicked down in the second half.
“We had three timeouts left then and were going to call what we wanted to call,” Head Coach Hugh Freeze said.
Not this time. Ole Miss went for the jugular in what was a five play, 58-yard drive that sent a clear message that its foot was still on the gas pedal. The foot never came off, either, as Ole Miss stormed to a 45-14 drubbing of an undefeated and 12th-ranked Georgia team for its first SEC win of the year.
“We’ve certainly had experiences that we should learn from,” Freeze said. “We thought we took control. This was the first time we’d won the toss and were able to get it out of halftime, and we thought we’d put it away there early in the third.”
Ole Miss needed this moment. A young team that had taken a couple on the chin in a brutal month of September let out a little frustration on a steamy hot Saturday afternoon. Freeze said the emotion had been absent in practice all week. He thought it was a sign of a “ticked off” football team, and it showed on Saturday.
“We were mad. We shouldn’t be 1-2 right now. We kind of kicked ourselves in the foot and those losses are on me for turning it over. We’ve got to keep on working hard and looking forward,” Kelly said.
Kelly and the offense opened with a field goal before defensive back Derrick Jones picked off Jacob Eason on the following possession and took it 52 yards for a touchdown. It was Jones’ first game back from a suspension for violating team standards and he didn’t take long to leave his mark. The Rebels quickly lead 10-0.
Kelly took it from there. Following a 1-yard touchdown rush from D’Vaughn Pennamon that put the Rebels up 17-0, Kelly hit Damarkus Lodge for a 55-yard touchdown strike before topping that with a pass to Engram to close the half. Kelly was 13-17 for 233 yards and two scores at the half and finished with a line of 18-24 for 282 yards. The Rebels had 323 yards of offense in the opening half alone and finished with 510. Chad Kelly passed Archie Manning for 6th all-time in offensive yards with 5,621 yards.
A 45-14 exhale that got Ole Miss to .500 (2-2, 1-1) on both fronts. Its pass rush flustered true freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. A young secondary grew up and stood tall. Eason was just 16-36 for 137 yards. The pressure on Eason was relentless.
“Coach Wommack called some great blitzes. They were allowing us to rush our four guys and he was rattled. You could see it,” D.J. Jones said.
Ole Miss had been having trouble getting off the field on third downs. Georgia was 4-16 in that department today.
“Finish,” Jones said. “That’s what he spoke all week.”
The Ole Miss receiving corps showed why it is the one of the most talented in the country. Georgia dared to show Ole Miss a lot of one-on-one looks, and the Rebels won most all of them.
“It’s huge. That’s what it is about. You have to win your one-on-ones,” Kelly said. “They wanted to give us a one-high look. We took advantage of it and those guys made plays.”
Saturday was the end of a rugged September stretch for Ole Miss. It went through adversity. The losses stung. But Freeze’s team bounced back again.
“It’s hard for me to remember all of them. But this one will stand out because of the type of losses that we’ve had to the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country when we played them,” Freeze said. “When you lose games like that and felt you could have won, and you have to hear about it in this world with all of the social media world, it hurts. This one is pretty special.”