The Rebels raced out to a 28-6 advantage against the then-No. 4 ranked Seminoles, but FSU stormed back, scoring 33 unanswered points to take a lead it wouldn’t relinquish en route to a 45-34 win.
Ole Miss turned the ball over four times. Kelly, a senior and team leader, was responsible for all of them. Sure, he accounted for 328 of his offense’s 380 total yards, but three interceptions and one fumble turned a once-promising night into an ugly one.
Kelly talked to his dad Wednesday morning. He was still wearing the loss, rehashing each poor decision, each throw he wish he could have had back. Interceptions show up in the stat book. But just as costly were the reads he missed, open receivers he didn’t get the ball to.
Ole Miss is 0-1 as a result.
“It’s hard because we were still in the game even with those turnovers,” said Kelly, who completed 21 of 39 passes for 313 yards and four touchdowns. “There are little things throughout the game, but it makes up the whole game.
“There are little things that frustrate you because you could be sitting here 1-0 after all that hard work in the off-season, all that time in the film room and this and that. It hurts, but you’ve got to get by it, and now we’re just looking forward to the next game.”
The Ole Miss offense couldn’t have scripted a worse third quarter performance. On back-to-back drives, and despite leading by 12 points, the Rebels turned the ball over, each time handing Florida State possession in the Ole Miss red zone. And each time, the Seminoles converted the miscues into points. The Rebels netted -7 yards for the period.
But the loss certainly doesn’t fall all on Kelly. Not by a long shot.
He got little help from the running game, reeling from what was ultimately diagnosed as a season-ending knee injury for blossoming redshirt freshman running back Eric Swinney. The defense struggled, too, surrendering 580 total offense yards, including a combined 478 to redshirt freshman Seminole quarterback Deondre Francois.
But Kelly is the face of the program now, the player sent to the podium week in and week out to face the media. Scrutiny and second-guessing comes with pretty much every loss, just as praise and credit comes with the wins. Such is life considering the sky-high expectations for Kelly, who set records in his debut season in leading Ole Miss to a 10-3 record and Sugar Bowl win.
“Some of my throws just died on me,” he said. “There were sometimes the check down was definitely open, and I tried to force it down field, but more than anything I think I didn’t push it. My lower body wasn’t ending as it should. Foot work was good, but when I really had thrown the ball there wasn’t that extra pop to get the extra yards into the throw. I’ve just got to keep working my lower body, keep getting it stronger and stronger. Those things will come. Like I said, a lot of those throws were wide open. If I just put it another 10-15 yards down the field it’s probably a touchdown.”
Despite how the third quarter unfolded, Ole Miss still had its chances. The Rebels had the ball facing an eight-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter and failed to find the end zone. They lost by all of 11 points, making their case that they belong in the conversation with the upper tier of college football teams should they clean up their mistakes and find consistent footing.
The problem is they have to get better in a hurry. They next host Wofford at 3 p.m. Saturday before welcoming No. 1 Alabama and SEC East contender Georgia in consecutive weeks.
“There’s not much time to recover after a hard game like that, but we’re ready to get this first win under our belts, because that’s what we’ve been working toward so Saturday can’t come soon enough,” Kelly said.
“(Wofford does) a decent job out there. They’re a good team. They’re 1-0. They have a good football team. They’re well-coached. They’re usually pretty good. We’ve got to come out ready to play and full steam ahead.”
On the freshman receivers: “They did good. The first live action, hopefully they got in a little groove, had a good feeling about the game. They understand the plays and the speed of the game already. As long as they keep on working they’ll be all right.”
On his reliance on his tight ends vs. FSU: “I just think they played a lot of man coverage, and those guys got open more than anything. They were able to slip by those linebackers, get to the second level and third level. Like I said, they did a great job. They stuck their nose into some things and were able to move the pile. They were aggressive definitely. All those guys definitely contributed, even Ty Quick.”
On yet another hit for the Rebel RBs: “First thing I said to Jordan today was like, ‘Man, you ready to come back?’ I know he was trying to come through the TV. It stinks that both of those guys are down this year, but it’s time for those next guys to step up. (D’Vaughn) Pennamon’s going to have to contribute now, but with Akeem (Judd) and Eugene (Brazley), those two guys have got to keep working hard. We’ve got to make sure on the field we understand the protections with each other, we get the same calls and see things before they happen so we can communicate with guys blitzing and not to make it an even better season. I know those guys are hungry and ready to get back to it.”
On if the pressure affected him at all against FSU: “The line did a great job all night. Here and there a little something, but I’ve got to make sure I get the protections right, get those guys in the right call and I think the coaches will be pleased if we come out victorious of course. Those turnovers and sacks, that’s all on me. I’ve got to make sure we keep working past that and don’t make those mistakes so it won’t happen again.”
On Evan Engram: “Evan’s a great player first of all. You might as well call him a wide receiver and a tight end. He can do it all, run, catch, block. He’s the all-around athlete we need on this team. The chemistry kind of showed it, but we both wish we had some things back, because we could have executed a little bit better and we’re sitting here 1-0. All that aside, that’s all we want. We want to be 1-0 after that next game. We have to make sure we keep on working hard, and everything will work out.”