He was studying coverages at breakfast prior to the Rebels’ 73-21 win over Fresno State. He’s already watched every Alabama game of the last two years. Actually, he started scouting the Crimson Tide the first or second week he arrived at Ole Miss.
He can’t pull himself out of the film room. He can’t get enough.
“He studies more film than I do,” head coach Hugh Freeze said.
“Right when I wake up until I go to sleep,” Kelly said. “It’s the last thing I do, say my prayers and go to sleep. You can never get enough film in.”
His efforts have certainly paid off through the season’s first two games.
Kelly currently leads the NCAA in pass efficiency (234.0) and yards per pass attempt (13.9). He tops the SEC with six passing touchdowns, which is tied for third in the nation, as is his 48 points responsible for. He’s completed 29 of 40 passes for 557 yards, six touchdowns and one interception.
“He’s in here sun up to sun down, really picking the defense apart and seeing what plays would work for him,” senior safety Mike Hilton said. “He’s a guy who’s really taken over that offensive leadership role, and we’re glad to have him on this team.”
“He’s probably watching film right now,” said junior wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo, who has been on the receiving end of four Kelly touchdowns this season. “That’s just what he does. He watches film all the time, and he’s a really encouraging guy. At practice, let’s say a guy messes up. He’ll get the team and be, like, ‘Let’s re-do that play, let’s do it again, let’s do it right.’ He’s a leader out there.”
An example of Kelly’s diligent study habits came early against Fresno State. Ole Miss star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell caught a Kelly pass on a slant in the first quarter for a first down. To the untrained eye, the play would seem rather innocuous over the course of a 60-minute football game.
However, Kelly had actually charted the play with Treadwell, who finished with five catches for 73 yards, that morning.
“We talked about it at breakfast,” Treadwell said. “He said if they leave you man-to-man we’re going to run (a particular play), hit you and we’re going to make a big play. It’s exactly what we did.
“It just breeds confidence for him, and it’ll continue to breed confidence as long as he stays in the film room.”
Kelly said his love of film has evolved over time, and isn’t exclusive to future opponents or his past games. He was glued to Tony Romo in the Dallas Cowboys’ comeback 27-26 win over the New York Giants last night.
Romo, with no timeouts, orchestrated a 72-yard scoring drive with just 89 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to propel the Cowboys to a win, capped by an 11-yard touchdown throw to tight end Jason Witten on third-and-2 with 13 seconds left.
“I love watching football. If I could watch football 24/7, I would,” Kelly said. “Just like last night. I wasn’t really watching Alabama film, I was more keying in on watching the Dallas Cowboys and how Tony Romo did it. Anytime you can take something from other great quarterbacks, you try to get even better. With how different defenses play other quarterbacks, you see a lot of different stuff at all times. The more familiar you can get with different coverages and different defenses, it can only hope you.”
Aaron Rodgers of the Green Packers and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots are some of his other favorites, and each brings a unique approach to quarterback play.
“Tom Brady likes to do under-crossing routes, Aaron Rodgers likes to throw it down the field,” Kelly said. “Not only that, you watch how defenses play those type of guys. They’re great quarterbacks for a reason. Defenses try to disguise a lot of stuff, and that’s when you have to be very good in the film room. You have to know the opponent inside and out.”
Because of his commitment to studying, Kelly is always more than prepared come game day. There’s little, if any, uneasiness for games, even those marquee matchups - like the Rebels’ upcoming road trip to No. 2 Alabama.
Ole Miss (2-0), ranked No. 15 in the latest Associated Press poll, and the Crimson Tide (2-0) face off Saturday at 8:30 p.m. CT in Tuscaloosa on ESPN.
“Stop and rewind until it starts hurting your head, really,” Kelly said of his process. “You have to watch every single move every player on the field is making, from the defensive line to the corners and the safeties. You’ve got to picture yourself being out there. What kind of read would you make in this type of situation? Understand the down and distance, what they’re most familiar playing in second and third down. First down is the biggest down of it all. You want to make sure you’re in a good spot on second down so you can open up the playbook a little bit more.
“(Alabama) is great all across the board. They have great athletes, they recruit great players all the time. Every year you see multiple people go to the NFL from that team. They have some weaknesses we can exploit, but they play hard, they play fast, they have great coaches. But I’m excited for the opportunity.”
Excited because he likely already has a good idea of what’s coming. He’s studied it.