Do you know what the ultimate offensive system is? The one with balance between the run and the pass.
While the spread has opened up a world of possibilities for teams to get athletes in space and score points in bunches, without balance, it's all for naught. Without balance, even the most lethal spread passing attacks will run into the team that can stop the run with a five or five-and-a-half man box and just squeeze the life out of the passing game.
Lack of balance had been an Achilles heel for Hugh Freeze's Ole Miss teams, until 2015.
|Rushing S&P+||Rushing YPC||Passing S&P+||Passer rating||Overall Offensive S&P+|
(S&P+ is an opponent-adjusted quality stat by Bill Connelly.) For the first time in a long time, both the Ole Miss run and pass undoubtedly ranked in the country's upper fourth.
This included more physical play by the OL and bigger personnel at RB, but the play of QB Chad Kelly was of particular importance.
|QB||Carries-Yards (minus sacks)||YPC||Rushing TDs|
You'll notice a connection between how well Bo Wallace ran and how effective Ole Miss was on the ground. As he became less of a feature, the run game struggled. Without a running game that could convert in short-yardage, finish drives with TDs and protect the passing game from the dreaded five-man box, the Rebel O couldn't break through to elite status.
With Kelly, that happened. (Kelly's the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, who maintained a 4.8-yard average out of the pocket in the NFL before turning 30.) He carried a rushing load similar to Wallace's, with his 2015 attempts ranking second among Rebels behind Jaylen Walton's 142. Walton met his career average of 5.1 yards per carry.
Here's how his skills set up the Rebels on the ground ...
The spread-to-run strategy can only work if defenses are punished for dropping DBs toward the line of scrimmage. Run/pass options or QB runs can regain a numbers advantage for the offense.
Freeze's offense is designed to do both, and this is where Kelly thrives.
Here's an example of how they'd use the passing game to set up their backs with easier running lanes. The Rebels liked to use this at different times to get Laquon Treadwell (X below) isolated in tons of space, then attack elsewhere after the defense inevitably sent safety help his way.
On this play, they ran a RB counter play while giving Kelly the option to throw a quick out to Treadwell or a bubble to the boundary (the short side, on the right here) if those outside linebackers ventured into the box. In one example, Arkansas' linebackers didn't, so Ole Miss took the opportunity to run with a six-on-five (five offensive linemen and an H-back vs. four defensive linemen and a middle linebacker) advantage for a nice gain.
Kelly was okay, not great, at quick throws in the RPO game. His cannon arm was useful for hitting windows, but his feel for where WRs would be and accuracy on those throws weren't always on point.
Where he was really effective was in the run game. His quickness and 6'2, 215-pound frame made it easy for Ole Miss to use the threat of his legs to open up creases for others. It also made for an effective red zone tool:
GIFs via CBS and ESPN
This is a popular new spread run.
It opens looking like an RPO, with the QB choosing whether to hand off or pass, but then the RB becomes the lead blocker. It turns out to be a designed QB run all the way.
As happens in this example, it can be easy for the defense to get caught by blockers after making initial pass drops.
Freeze has always been clever in his play designs, but with Kelly, he has a stronger talent executing the concepts.
... and through the air.
Kelly has an excellent arm (this practice throw was said to cover 76 yards), but he doesn't bring the kind of spread skills that Shea Patterson will offer in the future. He's effective when making simple throws and when his arm strength can burn teams deep.
Ole Miss has a nasty play-action game, which should continue to be effective even with Treadwell and Cody Core gone. Evan Engram's marginal blocking ability often sets him up to take advantage in these concepts:
On this play, they fake a power-read run. Engram's arc block trajectory turns into a flat route, which turns into a wheel. The LB completely loses him, and only a late rally by the corner and proximity to the sideline saves Arkansas from giving up a touchdown.
Kelly's arm strength might be even more valuable in 2016 as young burners like Quincy Adeboyejo and Damarkus Lodge become more involved and big Damore'ea Stringfellow takes on much of Treadwell's role.
The Rebels' spread formations also set Kelly up to make simple reads, leaning on future first-rounder Laremy Tunsil to keep Kelly upright. (Tunsil is expected to be replaced by Greg Little, the country's highest-rated 2016 offensive tackle.) Kelly would often either have obscene amounts of time, thanks to the OL, or be able to make quick decisions and rifle the ball from varying angles, thanks to his arm strength.
Here's an example:
All Kelly has to do here is read the weakside linebacker (W).
If the W chases the quick out route by the H-back, there will be a passing window to throw the dig route to X (Treadwell, in this instance). If the weakside linebacker stays in that passing window, Kelly throws the checkdown to the H-back or to the running back.
Kelly could also scramble for time or running room, the former of which didn't always go well, but the latter of which was deadly.
With the spacing of the offense and the quality of skill talent, it was often easy for Kelly to make these reads and hit the windows, even if he took his time to find them. The Rebel passing game could be stopped by pressure or making his reads murky, but that was difficult to accomplish against an offense so predicated on spacing and spread-option principles that can put defenders in conflict.
Kelly is not a traditionally great quarterback in the drop-back passing game, which means he'll have to improve a lot in order to meet some early NFL Draft buzz. But in Freeze's system, his physical talents bring a lot of dynamics and balance. With Kelly back and plenty of skill talent coming up, a return to form by the defense could mean another year of serious contention in the SEC West.