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NOTEBOOK: Fast start propels Rebels to rare Starkville victory

STARKVILLE — All week, the word out of the Ole Miss locker room was the need to jump on Mississippi State quickly, silencing the Bulldogs and more importantly their fans.

Cowbells rang all afternoon and into the evening leading up to the 110th edition of the Egg Bowl, but once the Rebel offense took the field, they became a non-factor quickly.

After 18 minutes ticked off the clock, Mississippi State looked up at the scoreboard and realized it was staring at a 28-3 deficit. It happened so fast the Bulldog defense may not have even remembered how they got to that point.

Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly worked a masterful first half, completing 12 of 15 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. He also accounted for one touchdown on the ground, a 27-yard run to put the Rebels up 7-0 in the first four minutes. He led Ole Miss to touchdowns on its first four possessions.

“I didn’t see a ball that was close to being intercepted,” Ole Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. “I think he’s making good decisions for the most part and guys are making plays for him.”

The decision-making aided in Ole Miss’ hot start with receiver Laquon Treadwell covered by the Bulldog secondary most of the game, catching four passes for 22 yards. Kelly relied on Damore’ea Stringfellow to carry the load.

He did just that as the redshirt sophomore led the Rebels with five catches for a career-high 84 yards and two touchdowns.

“We call our plays and whoever’s open gets the ball, so I just made the most of my opportunities,” Stringfellow said.

Kelly the rusher

Over the past three weeks, Kelly has taken on more of a role when it comes to the run game. It was a decision head coach Hugh Freeze and Werner came up with before the Arkansas game.

The decision seems have helped kickstart the offense the past month. Over the past three games, Kelly has rushed for 265 yards and six touchdowns, including Saturday’s 74 yards and one score against Mississippi State.

“It was just more designed runs,” Kelly said. “Sometimes if it’s not there you got to tuck it and run.”

Kelly’s legs proved to be beneficial early in the fourth quarter when he fumbled the ball but had it bounce right back into his arms and get an Ole Miss first down. Two plays later running back Jordan Wilkins scored a 38-yard touchdown to put the Rebels up 38-13, icing the game.

Sugar rush?

Two big wins over LSU and Mississippi State plus some help from others in the Southeastern Conference may have Ole Miss booking a return trip to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

The Sugar Bowl in New Orleans gets the top team from the SEC, but with Alabama locked in a College Football Playoff spot as of now, that slot would fall on the conference’s next best team. Florida faces Alabama next week for the SEC title, but after a 27-2 thumping by Florida State on Saturday night, it could be Ole Miss’ bid for the taking.

Extra Points

Ole Miss has back-to-back nine-win regular seasons for the first time since 1961-62. … It is the first time since 2003-04 the Rebels have consecutive Egg Bowl victories. … The 6-2 SEC record is the best since Ole Miss posted a 7-1 mark in 2003. … The second-place finish in the SEC West is the best finish since Ole Miss was co-champion in 2003.