He celebrated with family and friends, despite the uncertainty surrounding his future. Ole Miss was still exploring the possibility of adding Kelly who, at the time, was considered a risky prospect due to some off-the-field trouble.
Kelly wasn’t committed, though he’d enroll but a few months later. Actually, he didn’t really consider Ole Miss an option. Indiana seemed like the likely landing spot.
“I remember going crazy in there,” he said. “I wasn’t even committed or expecting to go to Ole Miss then, but I was a fan of the Ole Miss football team, and the way they played that game then and finished the game was amazing.”
A year later, it was Kelly’s play in Tuscaloosa that was the cause of such celebrations.
He completed 18 of 33 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns in leading the Rebels to a 43-37 win, which marked the first time in series history that Ole Miss claimed back-to-back victories.
Kelly and the No. 19 Rebels will go for a three-peat Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on CBS.
“I think it’s a mindset first,” Kelly said of the key to beating Alabama. “You have to go in there thinking you’re going to win, of course. That’s really the key: having that mindset that you can accomplish anything, that you can go in any atmosphere and win regardless of the situation. As long as you have a great mindset going in and execute, that’s what it comes down to, execution.”
Alabama is the reigning national champion and enters play 2-0 on the young season. The Crimson Tide is again ranked No. 1 in both the Associated Press and the coaches polls and is riding a 14-game winning streak dating back to last season’s loss to Ole Miss.
“Every year, in and out, they have a great team,” Kelly said. “It starts with their coaches and goes all the way down to the players. Those players believe in the system. They always have. They have a great team. It really starts with the coaches.”
Ole Miss is 1-1 and fresh off a 38-13 win over Wofford. Kelly leads the SEC with seven passing touchdowns and 42 points responsible for. He has seven career games of three-plus touchdown passes and nine with 300-plus passing yards.
He may very well need a similar effort if the the Rebels are to knock of the Tide.
“I think their speed and quickness is a lot faster than they’ve been,” he said. “Those guys on the line all the way back to the safeties are really fast. They’re very disciplined, always in the right spot. That goes back to who their coach is. They get those guys ready. We’re going to have to make sure we’re on our Ps and Qs and ready to go from the start of the game.”
On thing Kelly said he’s emphasized this week is protecting the football.
The Rebels won the turnover battle against Alabama last season, 5-0, in a close win. However, they lost it in a disappointing, season-opening loss to Florida State. Kelly was responsible for all four of the team’s miscues, including three interceptions.
“Protect the ball and you give yourself an opportunity to win,” Kelly said. “As long as I take care of the ball, hit my check-downs, take what the defense gives me, I think we’ll be in good hands.
“Besides those turnovers we were still in the game late in the fourth quarter. Yeah, sometimes I made a mistake trying to force it downfield and not take what the defense gives me. From that, you’ve got to just learn from it. Now going onto another great team like Alabama, we really have to harp on protecting the ball, and that starts this week in practice. I really have to take what the defense gives me, and we should be good.”
On the Ole Miss offensive line: “I think it’s been good. A lot of those guys last year got a lot of time. They’ve put in a lot of work this off-season, and all those guys are really pushing each other hard. That’s the biggest thing we can have, that all those guys are really fighting for positions. None of those guys are complacent with where they are right now, as long as they keep on working practice. We’ve got to make sure we keep on bringing the intensity. That’s where it starts is up front.”
On feedback he received after his tipped-pass touchdown at Alabama last season: “They just kept asking me why did I throw it? Why not throw it right? Just trying to make some plays. That’s part of who I am. I just try to make plays. Sometimes it might not go the way you like, but sometimes it does, and God is on my side. That’s why I read the Bible every day.”
On pass production so far from the Ole Miss RBs: “Those are the type guys you want. They want to stick their nose into those linebackers, and if they’re coming full speed they’re going to have to come full speed too. As long as they see things before they happen, seeing a late corner blitz when we slid the protection the other way, as long as they keep on working, getting in the film room, me and them being on the same page, seeing what we see, talk back there, I think we’ll be all right.”
On going head-to-head with Alabama offensively: “I think they’ve taken a lot of shots. Watching the USC game, at the beginning of the game they were moving the ball right down the field. They kind of slowed up a little bit. Not really sure. They tried to run the ball a little bit, but they passed it down the field. They saw them playing a lot of man coverage, and I feel confident in our wide receivers that they can beat man coverage. That’s why they’re here. That’s their job. As long as we take what the defense gives us and I take care of the football I think we’ll be all right.”