Head coach Hugh Freeze said the Rebels will be without junior safety Tony Conner for at least four weeks after tearing his meniscus in his right knee. Conner, a preseason All-American, has 10 tackles on the season, 1.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry. He's accounted for 135 tackles, two sacks, 14 tackles for loss, eight passes defended and two interceptions in his career.
“We’ll be without Tony Conner for, minimum, probably four weeks,” Freeze said. “He’s going to have surgery tomorrow on a meniscus tear in his knee.”
With Conner sidelined, Freeze said true freshman Zedrick Woods will shift to “husky,” the team's hybrid safety/linebacker position, full-time, with sophomore A.J. Moore and senior Chief Brown mixed in as well. Sophomore C.J. Hampton, who was suspended for the first two games, could factor in should he get the needed reps this week in practice.
Hampton would, in effect, man his natural position of strong safety, moving do-it-all senior Mike Hilton in place of Conner. Hilton has played every secondary position in his four-year Rebel career.
“We’ve got to get C.J. Hampton ready to play,” Freeze said. “His two weeks out, we didn’t get him enough reps. He knocked the rust off hopefully last week and gets ready to go this week.”
“Somebody going down will always hurt a team,” sophomore wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo said. “The more we can stay healthy, the better we’ll be, for sure. If we have all our guys, we’ll be the best we can be. Without Tony, we’ll be pretty good without him. We’ll be all right without him.”
KELLY LOOKING FOR MORE
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly is his own worst critic.
But Freeze is a close second.
Kelly completed 18 of 33 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns against Alabama. He also rushed for another score, and Ole Miss totaled 433 yards of offense. Kelly leads the nation in passing yards per completion (19.11), yards per pass attempt (12.30) and ranks second in passing efficiency (205.7).
Just don’t tell Kelly and Freeze.
“Yeah, I give myself about a C- probably,” he said. “I made some plays, offensive line did a great job, wide receivers got open. That game was on me for not playing very well, but you come back, you bounce back. It’s a big win. Anytime you can win in Tuscaloosa, it’s a big win.”
Kelly said he didn’t think he saw the whole field at times, instead locking in on his first or second read - an assessment Freeze agreed with.
“He played average,” Freeze said. “He made some big plays. He’s a competitive dude, and he’s a winner. He kind of has an ‘it’ factor about him. That was his first real test in a difficult place to play. There was three or four times where we missed explosive plays because he’s glued in and really not going through the progression he needs to go through. We have to coach him better and get him more prepared.”
“I was definitely rushing the throws for sure, just trying to get the ball out quickly,” Kelly said. “But looking on the bright side, we didn’t turn the ball over on offense, which is a great sign. They turned the ball over five times. Anytime you do that it’s hard to win a game. I’m glad we didn’t turn it over at all. We did what we’re supposed to do.”
Ole Miss took down Alabama in Tuscaloosa for just the second time in school history, its only other win coming in 1988. The Rebels, who are 3-0 (1-0 SEC) for the third straight year, jumped to No. 3 in the Associated Press poll with the win, and they’ve scored 43 or more points in three straight games for the first time in school history.
They host Vanderbilt Saturday at 6 p.m.
“You can only think about it past Saturday night,” Kelly said of the Alabama win. “After you come home, hang out with your buddies and reminisce about this and that, you’ve got to go on to the next game. You’ve got to get ready for the next team. Vanderbilt will be a good test. We’ll have to make sure we’re all focused, we’re ready to go each snap. We have to understand if we want to be the best and go 15-0 and win the national championship we have to make sure we’re hitting on all cylinders every single play, every time we’re on the practice field. We have to keep in the moment and understand there’s a big picture we’re trying to get to. The only way we can achieve those goals is if we’re hitting on all cylinders every single time.”
TUNSIL WAITING ... AND WAITING
Ole Miss ushered in its fourth game week on Sunday, and still no resolution regarding star left tackle Laremy Tunsil’s playing status.
Tunsil, an All-American, has yet to play this year due to what the school is deeming “precautionary reasons” pending an NCAA investigation into Tunsil’s extended use of a loaner car. Tunsil is a two-time All-SEC selection, having started 23 games at left tackle in his Ole Miss career. He’s considered one of the top-five overall prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft by ESPN’s Mel Kiper.
“I’ve asked for an update, and I sure hope I get something this week,” Freeze said. “Right now, I’m going to get the ones I know can play ready. I have no update to give you, but I think I’ll hopefully get something this week.”
THE CATCH THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
Adeboyejo has watched film of his thrilling 66-yard touchdown against Alabama enough times he’s all but lost count.
And he still hasn’t come up with a name for it.
Twitter tried to help. “Tip Touchdown” was thrown around, but it’s yet to stick. Frankly, Adeboyejo doesn’t care one way or the other. He’s simply happy he was in the right place at the right time.
“I had a bubble, and Chad fumbled the snap a little bit,” he said. “I was trying to stay by the sideline a little bit, thinking maybe he’ll throw it out there ‘cause it was me and (Laquon Treadwell) and there was two of their defenders. He threw it up, and I was just running up under the ball. It looked to me like Quon and the (defensive backs) had misjudged it, so I’m thinking it’s going over their heads from the start. I’m thinking I’m already thinking I’m going to score. But they ended up getting to it, they tipped it and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got a chance to score now.’ I caught the ball and went from there.”
Adeboyejo said time slowed down when the ball was tipped. The end result was his fifth touchdown catch, which leads the nation. He also ranks third in the SEC and 16th in the country in yards per catch (22.4). He’s played in every game since arriving on campus in 2013, totaling 29 games.
“When I watch it on film, it looked like it happened so fast. I caught it and took off running,” he said. “But when the ball was in the air, it was like slow motion. I just watched it fall into my hands. It was crazy.”
Now comes Vanderbilt. The Commodores are 1-2 overall and 0-1 in SEC play.
“I feel like nobody on this team is complacent with where we’re at,” Adeboyejo said. “Last year after (the Alabama) game, everybody was happy, but it wasn’t too much people saying, ‘Hey, we’re not done yet.’ This time we won, and now guys are saying, ‘We’re not done yet. Let’s keep going. Let’s keep training and preparing like we have.’ Regardless of the opponent, let’s attack on Tuesday and go at it.”