Ex-Red Lion QB Kelly leads Ole Miss to easy victory
OXFORD, Miss. — Robert Nkemdiche got a huge thrill as he rumbled 31 yards down the sideline for his first career touchdown during No. 17 Mississippi's incredibly lopsided 76-3 victory over UT Martin.
But the 296-pound Nkemdiche — whose day job is defensive lineman for the Rebels — knows someone who was even more elated.
His mother Beverly.
"That was for mom," Nkemdiche said. "It's rare that she can come. Coach Freeze and I came up with it and we worked on it in practice."
Nkemdiche's surprising touchdown catch was the highlight of a dominant day for the Ole Miss offense.
Chad Kelly's first passing attempt was good for a 27-yard completion. Jaylen Walton's first carry was right up the middle for a 60-yard touchdown. Kelly is a former quarterback for Red Lion High School.
Just about everything Ole Miss tried on Saturday worked and the touchdowns started piling up in a hurry. The end result: The most points in a game for the program since 1935. The Rebels finished with 662 total yards.
"It was a great day for the offense overall," Kelly said. "I was excited about the opportunity to play with my brothers for the first time in a game situation."
Kelly — who is the nephew of NFL Hall of Famer Jim Kelly — looked comfortable and efficient in his first start. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior has taken a long road to a starting role, starting at Clemson before transferring to East Mississippi Community College and finally Oxford.
He threw for 211 yards and two touchdowns and also added a 20-yard touchdown run. He completed 9 of 15 passes.
Kelly earned the starting nod over Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade in what coach Hugh Freeze called a tight race. All three played well against the Skyhawks.
"You've got to know when you can take your shots," Kelly said. "We did a good job with that overall."
The return of receiver Laquon Treadwell was also a good sign for the Rebels. Treadwell — who was the team's leading receiver in 2014 — broke his leg and dislocated his ankle in a gruesome injury against Auburn last season.
He caught four passes for 44 yards on Saturday, though one of his dropped passes bounced off his hands and right into the arms of a UT Martin defender for an interception.
Ole Miss also had some good moments on defense, including Trae Elston's 93-yard interception return for a touchdown. Nkemdiche, on top of his surprise offensive appearance, blocked a UT Martin field goal attempt.
"That's the worst resemblance of defense that we have put on the field in 10 years. It's embarrassing," UT Martin coach Jason Simpson said.
The only bad moment for the Rebels was off the field.
Ole Miss announced less than an hour before the game that starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil would not play because of an ongoing issue with his NCAA eligibility.
The school said during the summer that is was looking into allegations by Tunsil's stepfather that the offensive lineman had improper contact with agents and received illegal benefits.
Tunsil's absence didn't matter. The Rebels dominated the overmatched Skyhawks even with Fahn Cooper starting at left tackle. But the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Tunsil — a junior who is considered a possible first-round NFL draft pick in April — will be sorely needed when the Rebels open SEC play against Alabama on Sept. 19.
Freeze said he had "no idea" if Tunsil would be eligible for next week's game against Fresno State.