The Ole Miss football team badly needed to make several statements when 11th-rated Georgia rolled into town.
Mission accomplished, and some.
First statement, that they could finish what the started. After letting big leads slip through their collective hands against Florida State and Alabama, the theme of the week was to finish.
This time, there were no turnovers. There were no major special teams gaffs. There were no hurtful defensive busts as they built a more-than-commanding 31-0 halftime lead.
Second statement, the Rebels proved they could play a complete game - offense, defense, special teams - against a quality opponent. Make no mistake - Georgia has a new coaching staff and a freshman quarterback, but they are not devoid of talent. Never have been, never will be, but the Rebels made the 3-0 visitors cry uncle, calf rope and momma all in one game.
This time, QB Chad Kelly took care of the ball. This time, the defense didn't allow any explosive plays. This time, the special teams gave up a couple of plays - most notably a fake punt by Georgia, but overall, not bad, not bad at all from those guys.
Kelly played to the lofty expectations Rebel fans have placed on him and he has placed on himself. He had a QB rating at halftime of an astronomical 230.4, an off the charts number. He made some outstanding check downs, taking what the Georgia defense gave him, and he found the open receiver downfield all day. In short, he put on a quarterback clinic, the type of game Ole Miss fans have come to expect from Kelly when he is in stride, which he was against Georgia.
And he had plenty of help, including a decent run game that kept the Georgia defense honest, an offensive line that gave him enough protection to find his receivers and wideouts who made every play they needed to make while building the insurmountable intermission, and beyond, advantage.
Statement three, while many can legitimately play the would-have, could-have, should-have game, to come back with this type of performance after the results of the FSU and Bama game shows not only the potential of this team, but the mettle and character of them as well. Lesser teams, having seen some of their major goals disappear just three weeks into the season, would not have put this type of effort together. Lesser teams would have needed a boost from a home crowd, a 12th-man injection, so to speak.
But the Rebels came out and set the pace, the tone and the momentum from the opening kickoff and never let up while the game was in doubt.
Fourth statement, in the two losses, the Rebs ended the first half anemically and started the second half the same way, comatose, with the Seminoles and Tide holding Big Mo by the throat. Not so against the Bulldogs.
The Rebs scored to end the half with their last possession starting at 2:42 to go and then took the opening kickoff and methodically drove 70 yards to set the second half tone as well.
Fans call that going for the jugular, something absent in the setbacks. It wasn't absent by design as much as execution, but absent is absent and the Rebs corrected that in spades.
Statement five, it was hot as Mexican chili on the field, but the Rebel coaches were judicious from the outset about using a lot of personnel. On defense, the Rebs relied on some of their third team guys early in the game and liberally substituted from the start. That paid off not only in keeping the players fresh throughout the game, but also in getting some youngsters who will be counted on the rest of the way some quality reps against a quality foe.
Guys like Detric Bing-Dukes, who got his first start at middle linebacker; CB Derrick Jones, who had a pick six early in the game; WR DeMarkus Lodge, who is making more of an impression each week; RT Alex Givens, who got more snaps than usual; TB D'Vaughn Pennamon, who scored his first collegiate TD; and many more got valuable time that will pay dividends down the line.
In all, it was a dominating performance by a wounded Rebel team, a team determined to make a statement as they eye the rest of the season.
It was a tough September in many respects, but it was expected to be. Nobody in the country had to play numbers 1, 2 and 11 in the polls in the opening month of the season.
2-2 is not what anyone in the program wanted, but with the way the month ended, take it, build on it and move on.
There is still a lot to play for and nobody left on the schedule is a team the Rebels cannot handle.
More statement games are on the way.