Even one of Chad Kelly’s best games to date wasn’t enough to save Ole Miss on Saturday. In the nip-and-tuck game, visiting No. 15 Auburn capitalized on one of Kelly’s lone mistakes on the night to pull away late 40-29 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The loss dropped Ole Miss to 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the SEC.
“Really just a huge win in a tough place to play,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said of the win, which came in front of an announced crowd of 65,927. “We are glad to get out of here with a victory. Probably the big thing is how you win. Halftime was a dog fight and the third quarter was a dog fight.”
Auburn (6-2, 4-1) held a slim 33-29 advantage going into the fourth quarter as Ole Miss crossed into Tigers territory late. Kelly dropped back on second-and-8 and threw a sinking pass to Evan Engram on the left side. The senior, who earlier in the night set Ole Miss’ career touchdown mark by a tight end with his 13th, dropped the pass. Auburn’s Joshua Holsey then hijacked Kelly’s very next pass to set up Kerryon Johnson’s game-clinching 3-yard touchdown with 5:58 remaining.
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“Wide open. Chad put it on a line. It was low. I just didn’t get it,” a monotone Engram said after the Rebels fell in their third straight contest.
Ole Miss had another opportunity on its first possession of the third quarter to potentially find the end zone and put distance between itself and Auburn. After marching down the field, the Rebels faced a fourth-and-1 at the Auburn 3. One play after backup quarterback Jason Pellerin was stuffed on a run up the middle, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze opted to keep the backup in for the fourth down attempt rather than kick a short field goal. After both teams traded timeouts, Freeze stuck with Pellerin, who was stuffed on the run.
“I thought we were moving it almost at will against one of the better defenses in the country. Nobody else has put up those kinds of yards or points against them,” Ole Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. “I was pleased with the way we played other than a couple of plays. Change two plays and the game is probably different.”
Although the interception will linger, Kelly had arguably his best performance as a Rebel on Saturday.
The senior completed 36 of 59 passes for three touchdowns and 465 yards to set Ole Miss’ single-game mark.
Despite passing Archie Manning’s 436-yard performance against Alabama from 1969, Kelly wasn’t in much of a mood to discuss the career-high.
His three scores came on a 15-yard pass to Engram, a 26-yard pass to DaMarkus Lodge and a 10-yard strike to Damore’ea Stringfellow.
“That’s just Chad. He’s a gunslinger,” Engram said. “That’s just him. That’s his game. He can come out, make all type of throws and be the player that he is. He’s definitely a great one. You see all the records he has in his short time here.”
Kelly’s counterpart, Sean White, had plenty of success as well, completing 15 of 22 passes for 247 yards. He also threw a 15-yard touchdown late in the third quarter to push Auburn ahead 27-22.
Ole Miss’ woes stopping the run continued Saturday.
Sophomore running back Kamryn Pettway broke free for a 41-yard touchdown in the first quarter to give Auburn an early 7-6 advantage and finished with 236 of the Tigers’ 307 yards rushing.
“Kamryn Pettway is starting to establish himself as one of the top guys in the country,” Malzahn said. “He is getting better every time out.”
Johnson finished with 42 yards on 11 carries with touchdown runs of 1 and 3 yards.
Just for kicks
Kicking also played a pivotal role Saturday. Auburn’s Daniel Carlson made field goals of 45, 32, 30 and 47, while Ole Miss’ Gary Wunderlich converted attempts of 20, 49 and 26. Ole Miss missed the extra-point attempt on Engram’s 15-yard touchdown that opened the night’s scoring, putting added pressure on the Rebels early on.
Ole Miss will look to get out of its funk with an 11 a.m. Saturday against Georgia Southern. Auburn will look for its sixth straight win Saturday at home against Vanderbilt.
Ole Miss announced early in the game that linebacker Terry Caldwell has been suspended from the team indefinitely. The senior linebacker was sent off the field during the Rebels’ 38-21 loss at LSU last week after a blowup with teammates on the sideline. Caldwell started three of Ole Miss’ seven games and was third on the team with 32 tackles.