Chad Kelly delivered the most prolific passing performance in Ole Miss history on Saturday night in front of a packed house at Vaught–Hemingway Stadium. Thanks to atrocious defensive play, this historic outing was all for naught.
Kelly, the undisputed top quarterback in SEC, toppled a record that had not been touched for 47 years, and did so against a heralded Auburn defense. His 465 passing yards from Saturday now register as the most-ever by an Ole Miss signal-caller, surpassing Archie Manning’s 1969 mark. He also tossed three touchdowns, led the team in rushing and, once again, carried an absurd amount of the workload for his team and his offense.
Just like Manning nearly five decades ago, Kelly’s record night was tarnished by a losing team effort.
The Rebels did not need their defense to step up in drastic fashion, but they did need a respectable performance from a unit that has cost them dearly in 2016. They failed to receive such, and the result was a 40-29 defeat at the hands of the Tigers.
Ole Miss outgained Auburn 570 to 554, but this figure is woefully misleading. The Rebels accumulated just 16 more yards than their opponent, despite recording 16 more offensive snaps.
The run defense — which now ranks 118th in the country — was the primary culprit behind Saturday’s failures. The Rebels allowed Auburn to rush for 307 yards on 5.9 yards per carry. 236 rushing yards from Kamryn Pettway led the way, as the sophomore running back set a new career high in rushing yards for the third consecutive game.
While the pass defense was not quite as abysmal, it was certainly still an eyesore. It was also a haven of efficiency for the Tigers.
Sophomore quarterback Sean White was sacked just once, and his growing comfort level in the pocket was apparent. With the diversion of a dominant running game, White was able to complete 15 of 22 passes for 247 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions.
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze is left searching for answers behind his team’s disastrous 2016 campaign, which — barring a 3-1 finish — will result in a losing season. Frankly, it does not look like he will be around long enough to find a solution.
“I think any time you set a vision for the program and that vision isn’t being met, you have to look at the stats,” Freeze said after the game.
“You have to look at the indicators at what the issues are. There is an issue there. So it is either the people or the process. It is my job to try to figure out, is it a combination? Is it the people? Will recruiting fix it? Do we need to work on our communication?
“I assure you there is no give-up on this staff or on us trying to address it. We faced two really good rushing teams the last two weeks. I wish I could answer your question definitively.”
Freeze may claim an inability to answer the question definitively, but really, he did so with his preceding sentence.
Simply put, a team that has been as remarkably awful against the run as the Rebels will face a gloomy fate against potent rushing attacks.
In this case, it rendered one of the greatest single-game performances in school history useless.