Just don’t tell Kelly.
Kelly enters his senior season as the most accomplished returning quarterback in the Southeastern Conference and a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate. He started every game in his debut season for Ole Miss, leading the Rebels to wins over Alabama, Auburn and LSU.
But Kelly isn’t talking like a player with an already-long list of college accomplishments. His approach is simple, understated. He’s embracing every day, every opportunity. Everything else, all the peripheral noise, is just that.
“I just want to win (against Florida State),” he said. “That’s all I worry about. All that other stuff can wait.”
Kelly led the SEC in passing as a junior. He averaged 310.9 yards per game (10th in the nation) and was among the best in college football in total offense per game (394.4 yards per game), passing touchdowns (31) and points responsible for.
Those numbers are now in the past, though, as is the 10-3 record and Sugar Bowl win. Kelly is aiming higher. Much, much higher. “We’re focused on one thing – we want to win a championship,” he said.
It starts with Florida State next Monday at 7 p.m. CT in Orlando, Fla.
“Any time you can play ACC vs. SEC there’s always a little competition going on,” Kelly said. “You always hear the ACC is this and that and then you hear the SEC is this and that. So to go out there and have a great game is definitely big for me and this university.
“It’s finally game week. We’re all excited for this opportunity. It’s going to be a great game, great atmosphere and we’re trying to start this year on a great note. I think they’ve got a great team. They always do. They’re well coached. They’ve got great players and they’re always at the top for a reason. So we’ve got to make sure we go out and execute.”
Kelly has experience against Florida State. He spent two seasons at Clemson before making his well-chronicled trek to Oxford to quarterback Ole Miss and lead the Rebels to a No. 11 preseason ranking. The Seminoles enter the game No. 4 overall, according to the Associated Press.
“They’re a great team. They really are,” he said. “It’s up to us to go out there and perform. That’s the name of the game. When I was at Clemson, they showed a lot of different stuff on tape and then we go out into the game and they’re playing something totally different. We’ve just got to be prepared. That’s how I’m preparing – seeing both types of defense they’re willing to play. So if we’re all on the same page, we should be good to go.
“They’re strong at all positions. They’re a little younger at linebacker, they lost two of their guys, but other than that those guys in the back are really good and talented. Same as those guys up front. They’re quick, athletic and can move really well. We’ve just got to make sure we move the ball and not have any negative plays.”
Ole Miss will attempt to take down the Seminoles with a new-look offensive line. Ole Miss graduated four starters, including All-American left tackle Laremy Tunsil, but returns 24 combined starts out of 65 from a year ago.
The Rebels’ projected starters feature four players with at least four starts under their belt in 2015, as well as junior Rod Taylor, who started two games but appeared in 10. He’s shifted over to left tackle from guard to replace Tunsil.
“He’s been really good,” Kelly said. “He’s an athletic guy. He’s got a lot of confidence and he’s physical. Playing the left tackle position that’s what you need. As long as he’s stays the course, ddoes the right thing and keeps on learning he’ll be good.
“He’s been awesome to me ever since I met him before I came here. He’s a great player. He knows that and we all know that. He just has to get more familiar with the left side, being a left tackle and everything, knowing that he’s protecting my blind side. As long as he keeps on working I think the sky is the limit, just like Laremy. Laremy came in highly recruited at that left tackle position and Rod was in the tweener guard/tackle position. But I definitely think he’s done a great job of doing his role and playing really well.”
But, ultimately, success or failure falls on Kelly, which he’s fine with. This is his team now.
“Yeah, I love it. That’s why I play the position,” he said. “I love those big time games and big time throws that you’ve got to make. My dad always says the best players perform at the highest level in the best games. So you’ve got to go out there and perform.”
On chemistry with TE Evan Engram:
“It’s improved dramatically. Knowing we had to get him more involved in the offense and now coming together after a whole offseason or working hard with each other. SO I think we have a good chemistry going and we got to make sure we keep it going.”
On Akeem Judd:
“I think he’s done a really good job. Last year he did an excellent job playing. And now that Jordan’s out he’s got to take a bigger role. He’s really helped the young guys more than anything, getting them used to the playbook and seeing blitzes before they come. So Akeem just has to keep doing what he’s doing and they’ll be in good hands.
On FSU’s defensive scheme:
“They show a lot of 1 high stuff, a lot of man coverage, but you just never know until you get out there. A team could switch it up just like that. We just have to make sure we’re prepared and go out there and execute.”
On the Ole Miss freshmen WRs:
“I think it’s been good. Those guys just have got to fight that mentality of taking a rep off and really push hard. Because once one player messes up it could decide the game or that play. We just have to make sure those guys play full speed every single play and not give up.”
On OL protection during camp:
“I think it’s been good. It’s up to me to call the protections and see things before they happen so coach Werner has put me in a great situation to execute and get in the right protections. So as long as me and him are on the same page and see the same things, we’ll be good to go.”
On possibly running more:
“I just think the run opens up the pass more than anything. As long as we keep chucking it down the field and showing teams we have that deep threat in us I think the running game will open up and I’ll be able to see more lanes and take off and run.”
On playing on natural grass in the Vaught:
“I think it’ll be awesome. We were able to get out there yesterday and move around on that new grass and it’s the real deal.”
More on FSU:
“Like I said, they recruit really well there at Florida State. They’re really well coached. They have a great scheme. And I think those guys take advantage of those one on one matchups so your job is to win those one on one matchups. I think they’re a great team and they’ll cause problems, but we’ve just got to go out and execute.”
On what makes the first start of a QB’s career so tough:
“Just the speed of the game - not really knowing what the speed of a real, live game is going to be. There's no coaches behind you, so instead of 15, 20 people on the field, there's just 11. But it'll be good. I was excited for my first time. Any time you get to go out, be the starter and be the man, it's fun.”