OXFORD, Miss. (AP) The college career of Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly is over at least a month before anyone expected.
With Kelly out, Rebels' coach Hugh Freeze faces a tough dilemma in deciding who should replace him: backup Jason Pellerin or prized recruit Shea Patterson.
Kelly's season came to a sudden end after he tore two ligaments in his right knee during a 37-27 victory over Georgia Southern on Saturday. The 6-foot-2 senior leaves as the third-most productive passer in school history, needing just 22 games to throw for 6,800 career yards after transferring from East Mississippi Community College.
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Freeze praised Kelly on Monday for all he has done at Ole Miss – including leading the program to a Sugar Bowl win last season – but doesn't have much time to get sentimental. The Rebels (4-5, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) are struggling to become bowl eligible and must go on the road to face No. 10 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2) on Saturday.
Ole Miss has to figure out who will be under center against the Aggies.
''All options are on the table,'' Freeze said.
The choice isn't easy. The 6-foot-2 Patterson was one of the nation's top recruits a year ago, but Freeze planned to redshirt him since Kelly was returning after throwing for 4,000 yards as a junior. Now with three games remaining – four if the Rebels qualify for the postseason – the fifth-year coach is trying to decide if it's worth burning Patterson's redshirt to see what he can do.
''I think Shea is one of the most complete quarterbacks I've ever seen as a freshman,'' Freeze said. ''It would be hard-pressed, provided he stays healthy and everything, for him not to be a starter here whenever that time comes.''
Freeze just isn't sure that time is now.
After all, it's not like the Rebels are competing for an SEC Western Division title. Even with three wins to end the regular season, Ole Miss would have a 7-5 record and be stuck in a mid-tier bowl game.
The other option for Freeze is Pellerin, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound redshirt freshman who has been used some this season in short-yardage and when games are out of reach. His passing numbers – 5 of 13 passing for 53 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions – aren't great, but Freeze has said he's had some good moments.
Freeze said Pellerin would receive the majority of the first-team snaps during practice on Monday. He also said he'd prepare some emergency options like receiver Markell Pack, offensive lineman Jeremy Liggins or tight end Evan Engram if more injures occurred.
The coach acknowledged that the playbook will be a little limited against the Aggies.
''Will it be what Chad's done? Probably not, regardless of who goes at quarterback,'' Freeze said. ''Whoever it is, it'd be crazy for us to carry the whole playbook into this game. We need to pick the things we really like and go with those.''
Engram said he was confident in both Pellerin and Patterson. He said Pellerin's poise after Kelly's injury helped the Rebels close the Georgia Southern win and that Patterson had been impressive in practice, especially for a true freshman.
''It will be a huge week for our offense, and our biggest challenge will be to rally around whoever is taking snaps,'' Engram said.
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