Georgia first-year coach Kirby Smart gets a second crack at trying to slow down Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly.
He knows from experience it won’t be easy.
“He’s a little bit like a rodeo bull rider,” Smart said. “This guy will do anything and he’s good at it. Trust me, I know from experience. He’s good.”
The 12th-ranked Bulldogs (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) are the higher-ranked team in this matchup , but will still be about a touchdown underdog when they travel to face the 23rd-ranked Rebels (1-2, 0-1) on Saturday. Georgia has won 10 straight games in the series dating back to 1996.
Smart was Alabama’s defensive coordinator last season when Kelly torched the Tide for 341 yards passing, three passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in a 43-37 victory for the Rebels.
Now Smart is ready for round two. He said the goal is to keep Kelly off balance, and used a baseball metaphor to illustrate the Bulldogs’ plan.
“You’ve got to be able to pitch,” Smart said. “You’ve got to throw the fastball, you’ve got to throw a curveball. You’ve got to be able to change it up and you’ve got to throw the slider. You can’t do the same thing all the time.”
It is obvious Smart has a lot of respect for Kelly. The Ole Miss quarterback said the feeling is mutual when it comes to Georgia’s defense.
“They’re big and athletic. They play really smart,” Kelly said. “I think that’s a compliment to their head coach and their defensive coordinator. They do a really good job of staying in the right place. We have to make sure we play hard and keep the turnovers down.”
Kelly has thrown for 953 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, but his four interceptions have been costly. One was returned for a touchdown last week in the Rebels’ 48-43 loss to Alabama.
“I have to take it upon myself to keep putting it in my head to take care of the ball,” Kelly said.
Some other things to watch when Ole Miss hosts Georgia on Saturday:
Engram's The Target: Ole Miss senior tight end Evan Engram has emerged as Kelly’s favorite target this season. He’s caught 20 passes for 302 yards this season. Both numbers are tops in the nation for a tight end. Said Kelly: “He’s a heck of an athlete. He’s a playmaker, he’s aggressive. He likes to hit people, too. He’s a blocker, so he’s not just a receiving tight end.”
Rebels Struggle To Keep Leads: Ole Miss has already let two big leads get away during losses this season. The Rebels led Florida State 28-6 on Sept. 5 before eventually losing 45-34. Last weekend, Ole Miss had a 24-3 lead on No. 1 Alabama before the Tide rallied to win 48-43.
Georgia Can Come Back: While Ole Miss has had trouble keeping leads, Georgia has proven adept at coming back after falling behind early in games. The Bulldogs trailed by 10 points to both North Carolina and Missouri before winning both games.
Chubb's Resurgence: Georgia running back Nick Chubb has had a great start to the season after missing a big chunk of 2015 with a serious knee injury. The 5-foot-10, 228-pound junior has run for 365 yards and three touchdowns through three games. Said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze: “Another great test for sure. They are going to present a great challenge to us in the run game and we’ve got to be sure that our eyes are disciplined.”
Mckenzie Emerges: Georgia receiver Isaiah McKenzie is having a breakout year, catching 18 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns in three games. He had 10 catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win against Missouri.
Georgia at Ole Miss
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
Radio: 103.1 FM