The good, the bad and the ugly of Chad Kelly's Week 1 performance
This was Chad Kelly’s chance to open the season with a big game and kick-start a potential Heisman Trophy campaign, but it didn’t quite work out like that. Instead we got all of the aspects of Chad Kelly’s 2015 play in one game, including big throws dashed by inconsistency, leading to a player rating of 63.3. When you break his performance down, it can be categorized neatly into three categories — the good, the bad and the ugly.
Kelly started the game on fire, leading Ole Miss down the field for a touchdown with three solid throws, including the touchdown on the slant to Damore’ea Stringfellow. By midway through the second quarter, Kelly had thrown for three touchdowns and was well on his way to a big PFF rating that would have been in the running to be one of the best among quarterbacks after an entertaining opening week of the 2016 college football season. He had just two negatively-graded throws in the first half — the interception to Derwin James, and the touchdown to D.K. Metcalf (we’ll get to that) — but the good far outweighed the bad.
His best throw of the half came on 3rd-and-17 with 9:47 left in the second quarter. The post route to Evan Engram showed nice touch, as he took advantage of the matchup with the linebacker left to try and get out to cover Engram, and put Ole Miss up 21-3 early in the game.
Not all touchdown throws are created equal, and the touchdown to D.K. Metcalf on 2nd-and-3 with 12:47 left in the second quarter is a great example of this. Looking for his receiver in the back of the end zone on a fade, Metcalf was one-on-one in coverage so the decision to throw it his way was absolutely fine. The execution however, wasn’t.
On a fade route to the end zone a QB needs to play to his receiver’s leverage, putting the ball high and to the outside where only his guy can get it. On this play, Kelly left the ball inside where the defensive back actually had the better play on it, but was bailed out by great play from Metcalf. He broke up what looked like a sure INT and then found the ball again to bring it in for a TD. It wasn’t a terrible throw by any means, but it lacked the precision it needed and relied upon a healthy dose of luck to ultimately lead to a touchdown.
The bad news if you’re an Ole Miss fan is that when Kelly struggled against Florida State, he was under pressure. On 33 dropbacks with no pressure, Kelly completed 20 of the 29 passes he attempted, good for a 69 percent completion percentage. On plays under pressure that dropped to just 10 percent, with Kelly completing just one of the 10 passes he attempted and sacked five times. Last year, Kelly completed 55 percent of his passes under pressure over the course of the season, so the hope will be that this is just a one-game blip in that regard, especially when the team lost left tackle Laremy Tunsil to the NFL draft this spring.
Pressure also led to Kelly fumbling the ball away on 2nd-and-9 with 10:55 left in the third quarter, on a sack by Florida State defensive end DeMarcus Walker. It’s a tough play for Kelly because he’s put under pressure very quickly, but here’s where he has to show more poise. He looks to find a way to get rid of the football, when what he needs to be doing at that point is securing the ball. There’s a time and a place for taking chances, but it’s not inside your own 20-yard line with a five-point lead.
Kelly’s big first half showed why Ole Miss will be a tough team to play in 2016, and why there will be interest from teams in the NFL next spring. He has the arm to make the big throws and did so on more than one occasion in the game. The problem was that the same inconsistencies that plagued him in some games last year were on display here again and ultimately, if Kelly is to make it at the next level, that’s something he has to clean up.