Ole Miss entered Saturday against Georgia Southern missing three starters along its offensive line. When added to the already-long laundry list of walking wounded — from starting cornerback Ken Webster, to running back Eric Swinney and wide receiver D.K. Metcalf — the Rebels could easily put together a starting lineup just from players currently on the shelf.
A lineup that can now include quarterback Chad Kelly.
Following a rather innocuous play with nine minutes left in the third quarter of a 37-27 Ole Miss win, Kelly removed his helmet and walked to the sideline clearly favoring his right leg. Head coach Hugh Freeze said postgame Kelly is dealing with an injury to his knee. An MRI is scheduled for Sunday to determine severity.
“Everything right now would just be speculation,” Freeze said. “I didn’t see it because it wasn’t a run play or anything. He just said after he stepped and threw somebody rolled into him. He says it’s on the outside part of his knee, which is typically not the worst of cases. But we won’t know until the MRI.”
Kelly completed 16 of 23 passes for 226 yards and one touchdown. He was replaced by Jason Pellerin, who was 1 of 5 for 19 yards and an interception. The interception was a well-placed ball to wide receiver A.J. Brown. Brown looked to have come down with the ball, but a Georgia Southern defender was able to wrestle the ball out of his hands. Another of his throws, a nicely-thrown end zone attempt, fell through the arms of tight end Evan Engram.
Pellerin rushed four times for 29 yards.
“Obviously he would get all the reps, getting ready,” Freeze said of Pellerin, should Kelly be unavailable for Texas A&M next week. “We’ll cross that bridge when it comes, but you’ll have confidence to do whatever you practice him next week, for sure.”
“Chad’s a tough guy,” Pellerin said. “He said he’s fine. I don’t know if he is or not. He’s the one who knows how he feels, but Chad’s one of the toughest guys I know. I think he’ll be all right.”
Ole Miss has three games remaining in the regular season. Freeze said, should Kelly be ruled out, he’d hate to remove the redshirt from freshman Shea Patterson, a former five-star prospect who was rated the No. 1 quarterback in the country by Scout.com for the 2016 recruiting class.
But he’d have to get creative for backup options behind Pellerin in such a scenario. Freeze even brought up the possibility of bringing back Ryan Buchanan for a game. Buchanan quit football in the offseason to focus solely on his studies. A former backup for the Rebels, he’s currently enrolled at Ole Miss and has eligibility remaining.
“You hope you recruited some people behind your starter, and obviously we’ve got one here (Patterson) that we think’s going to be really good also. But there’s three games left in the season, and you certainly don’t want to pull that redshirt. I may go see if Ryan Buchanan wants to dress this week, in all seriousness.
“I’m being dead serious. I hope Ryan heard that.”
Running back Akeem Judd said the Rebels have confidence in Pellerin, though Kelly seemed in good spirits in the locker room.
“We’ve got great faith in Jason,” Judd said. “He’s a great quarterback. He just needed his opportunity. He just needs to get comfortable, just like any other player. We’ve got faith in him. (Chad) just told us to keep fighting. He’s all right.”
“You’ve always got to prepare for today,” Pellerin said. “You see what happens. You’re one play away from getting in there. You’ve always got to prepare to be the starter. Throughout the week, we run the plays. I feel confident.”