NEW ORLEANS — It was early in the fourth quarter and his team had a huge lead, but Ole Miss junior quarterback Chad Kelly still wasn’t ready to let up.
On 3rd-and-10 near midfield he took off for a 43-yard run and then threw a fade to Laquon Treadwell for a 14-yard touchdown, the prize receiver’s third of the night.
It was a fitting way to end what had arguably been the best season by a quarterback in Ole Miss history. Against overmatched No. 16 Oklahoma State he ended up 21-of-33, with 302 passing yards, four touchdowns, one interception and 10 carries for 73 rushing yards in the Rebels' 48-20 win.
That added up to an MVP award and fans chanting “One more year,” before he accepted the trophy. Kelly responded by yelling the phrase back with a huge smile on his face, perhaps giving a hint to whether he’ll return or enter the NFL draft early.
“It means everything,” Kelly said about how his roller-coaster year ended.
|Ole Miss Passing Efficiency Leaders|
|1. Chad Kelly||2015||153.4|
|2. Eli Manning||2003||148.1|
|3. Jevan Snead||2008||145.5|
|4. Eli Manning||2001||144.8|
|5. Bo Wallace||2012||142.7|
|Ole Miss stats|
When it comes to redemption stories, Kelly’s might have stood alone during the 2015-16 season as last January he was an extremely controversial addition to the roster by Hugh Freeze. Despite his checkered past, which included being dismissed at Clemson, the head coach stuck with him and gave him a second, and final, chance.
In turn, the Rebels (10-3) made their first appearance in the Sugar Bowl since 1970 and will likely finish in the top 10 of the final polls.
He set Ole Miss single-season records with 4,551 total yards, 4,042 passing yards, 41 touchdowns responsible for and eight 300-yard passing games at the school that’s primarily associated with the name “Manning.”
Friday night he also set single-season records for completions (298), completion percentage (65.1), passing efficiency (155.9), and tied the mark for passing touchdowns (31).
He went past Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Dak Prescott into third for the most total yards in a season in Southeastern Conference history. During the regular season he led the league in passing (311.7 yards per game), total offense (347.2) and points responsible for (222).
Kelly was a bright spot on a team that had numerous issues this season, including prize offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil serving a seven-game suspension and the fact that neither of the Nkemdiche brothers, Robert and Denzel, is still with the team.
Consequently, some wondered how the team would perform in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but Kelly made only one significant mistake. On the Rebels’ first possession, he had plenty of time in the pocket and saw that his receiver was double-covered downfield, but he still forced the throw. Not surprisingly, it was intercepted.
He shrugged it off and torched the No. 16 Cowboys (10-3) the rest of the night. It began with a terrific reception by junior tight end Evan Engram for a 27-yard gain, which was followed by a 31-yard pass to Cody Core for the first touchdown.
Ole Miss subsequently turned the game into a rout by outscoring Oklahoma State in the second quarter 24-3. Treadwell, who was coming off a horrific broken leg suffered last year, had touchdown receptions of 34 and 10 yards and even threw a pass to Jordan Wilkins.
The Rebels capped the half with an even more atypical play, a lateral to Tunsil for a two-yard touchdown that may have been the ultimate going-away gift.
“We had a blast playing tonight,” Freeze said.
Kelly finished the first half having completed 14 of 21 attempts for 251 yards and three touchdowns as Ole Miss had a monstrous 33-6 lead and had outgained Oklahoma State 296-157.
At that point, the only things in doubt were the details, like Treadwell’s final touchdown reception, his 11th of the season, which set an Ole Miss record.
Now Rebels fans have to wait to see if it was the last of his collegiate career. As potential top-10 selections, it’ll be tough for Tunsil and Treadwell to stay.
“It was amazing,” Treadwell said about the “One more year” chant also directed at him. “Rebel nation has always supported us.”
“I see the tears in his eyes,” Kelly said. “To have him for another year it would be huge.”
The offense will definitely lose guard Aaron Morris, tackle Fahn Cooper, center Ben Still, wide receiver Cody Core and running back Jaylen Walton, who are all seniors. Decisions by Engram and Kelly could come down to whether they can improve their draft stock by returning.
For now the only offensive starter from Friday night who appears absolutely set to return is right guard Jordan Sims, a redshirt freshman.
Regardless, the Rebels are going to enjoy this one for a while.
“It's the memory of a lifetime," Freeze said.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.