With Clemson whipping Virginia 42-10, the redshirt freshman quarterback took off from the pocket and sprinted 38 yards to the end zone for a touchdown, his first collegiate score.
It was a sign of why Kelly was so highly prized two years ago – and that his injured knee looks perfectly healthy.
Game on, Cole Stoudt and DeShaun Watson. Every little thing will matter in the upcoming battle to replace Tajh Boyd as Clemson's starting quarterback, and Saturday's late-game cameo was a powerful statement from Kelly.
Kelly says the competition isn't in the forefront of his mind, but he does think about it – and he can't wait to have the opportunity to play a full game.
"Even in the spring game, I felt real confident going out there and being myself," he said. "I haven't played a whole game by myself as a quarterback in two, two and a half years, just going out there and playing, really. I'm trying to go out there and help my team win."
When Kelly tore his ACL during Clemson's spring game, his entire 2013 season was in question. But thanks to an intense rehab that he said included six hours of work per day and a lightning-quick recovery, he has contributed this fall as the No.3 quarterback and put himself in position for next spring's quarterback derby.
"I don't think about next year at all," he said. "I'm trying to get better now. If that's to help Tajh and push him, it's a competition every day in practice. I want to be perfect, and Cole and Tajh, they want to be perfect too. I don't tend to look ahead. I want to do it now and see how good I can be now as opposed to next year."
Kelly left his collegiate debut against South Carolina State with a pinched nerve in his knee, and said he had scar tissue break loose. But he has been healthy since, save some minor postgame soreness, which he says is not a major issue.
"I was sore all over (Sunday)," he said. "I'm always sore, honestly. Every day, you have your ups and downs. Some days I'll come into a game feeling 150 percent, then come in the next day and be perfectly fine. It just varies."
And that's fine, he said. Taking hits can be a positive in the recovery process.
"You still think about it every once in a while," he said. "That said, just being tackled on your knee, you gain more confidence on your knee. After the game, my knee was a little sore, but after that I've never felt so good. It just felt so much tighter and stronger, felt really good."
In four games this season, Kelly has completed nine of 15 passes for 60 yards and no touchdowns, rushing 13 times for 93 yards and a touchdown.
Much of his work has come in practice – and watching Boyd on the sidelines while signaling in plays alongside Stoudt. It pays off in improved mental acuity during the game as well.
"You're kind of in the game, paying attention, reading the coverages while coach is calling the plays, and telling Cole what play it is so he can write it down," Kelly said. "We're all in the game, trying to help Tajh out, we're in the game but not really in the game. Once you get out there, you have a feel for what they're doing and the coverages they ‘re doing."
Meanwhile, Kelly watches Boyd and thinks of what could be.
"You're competing against this guy every day, doing what you're doing and seeing what he's doing, you're thinking this is pretty sweet to take it all in, see him do so well," he said. "You think, if I could do that it could be like this for me too."
Boyd has been impressed with what he's seen from the sidelines, too.
"(The touchdown run) was a little scruffy-looking at the end. He was stumbling a little bit," Boyd joked. "I was so amped, I was so proud of him. Just proud of that guy. He does a great job. Very proactive in meetings, on the sideline, always helping me when I'm out there, so it's been good. We've all helped each other this season."
Eye on Chad Kelly
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