It would have been easy to skip this Ole Miss-Texas A&M game so far from home, so expensive to travel these days, the Rebels not playing particularly well, nobody could blame the Rebs who didn’t make the trek here. . . .
. . . but for those who did, we got to see the debut of perhaps the most anticipated individual Rebel since, perhaps, Eli Manning, one Shea Patterson, the consensus number one quarterback in the country as a high school senior just last season.
It was an exciting moment, for sure, because Patterson, fair or not, is expected to be “the future” of Ole Miss football, the cornerstone of the program, our “hope” as a fan base to take our next two or three teams to the next level.
But what a venue for a coming out party for the talented true freshman.
Some 102,000 fans who shake the foundation of even a newly-renovated, to the tune of $400 million, stadium is a tough welcoming party. The vaunted 12th man cadets, who stand the entire game and leave Kyle Field unable to speak from having yelled so much.
In a perfect world, Shae would have taken his first snaps in the friendly confines of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium against Northern Southeastern Illinois Technical College for the Hearing Impaired & Prosthetic Research Institute.
When SEC total offense leader Chad Kelly went down with a season-ending knee injury last week against, of all people, Georgia Southern and ended his illustrious and brilliant, if too brief, career as a Rebel, there was a tough choice to be made by Coach Hugh Freeze and his staff.
Do you go with backup Quarterback Jason Pellerin, a redshirt freshman who did a nice job finishing the win last week, or do you take the redshirt off of Patterson with just three regular season games to go in a year that has seemed snakebit from the time Running Back Jordan Wilkins was named academically ineligible because of an administrative error, still hard to fathom, in August?
It has just been one of those years where steak has turned into spam, a new Cadillac into a ’69 VW Van and a real estate mogul has been elected President, all unlikely, but all a parallel of what has happened to the Rebels this season.
But enough of that, Freeze was not tipping his hand all last week other than to say “nothing is off the table” concerning the quarterback position, which, obviously included the possibility of activating Patterson after nine game of a redshirt.
Hugh was ambiguous, some would say sneaky, about the whole situation, even throwing out some smoke screens about the possible options of using Evan Engram, Jeremy Liggins, Dawson Knox or Markell Pack as an emergency QB backup, but he had already made up his mind.
He was going to have a competition between Pellerin and Patterson all week long leading up to the A&M game and let the best man win.
Every Rebel had an opinion. Stay with Pellerin in a 4-5 season, give him a shot at taking the Rebs to a bowl and keep Shea’s redshirt going or burn Patterson’s redshirt to try to get to a bowl game and give him experience for next year?
The debate was pretty evenly divided with most of the talking points, pro and con, revolving around how long people believe Shea will be at Ole Miss – three years, four years, five years? Everyone was playing that guessing game freely, as if anyone knows. That’s the fun part of being a sports fan, you can have an opinion with no knowledge whatsoever to back it up.
But Freeze was not concerned about any of that. Nope.
For him, it was team first. End of discussion, end of story.
“I could not look our seniors in the eye and tell them we were not going to give them the best chance to win and Shea was our best chance,” said Hugh.
Whatever was best for the team, within reason to the individual players, was what the main deciding factor would be. Of course, he did talk with Shea about the possibility of playing and Patterson was all for it, so that made the team-first philosophy easier to carry out.
Let the competition begin. . . . Patterson and Pellerin went head-to-head and what came out of it was Shea being ahead of Jason at this point but the coaches also seeing enough in Pellerin to install a package for him.
So how did it go, this grand opening that has gotten more attention in Rebel Nation than anything in recent memory and has sparked some excitement even in a down season?
Well, he’s 1-0 in the win column, the most important stat, and while there are many who deserve credit for the come-from-behind win – including a defense that held A&M to one score in the second half – it was Patterson who engineered it and directed it and brought it home.
He’s got the goods. He’s got the look. As Freeze said after he saw Shea in high school, “he’s a no-brainer.”
First, Shea has composure. He does not look jittery or wild-eyed at all. He looks calm and collected. Demeanor is important at all positions, but certainly at quarterback.
His brother, Sean, on the Rebel staff, said postgame that Shea was calm all day, “locked in” he called it, but in the first half A&M’s speed, speed he had never played against before, bothered him a bit. After that adjustment, it was lights out.
The stats are silly for a true frosh starting his first game against a top 10 team in front of their full, big house of fans. Over 300 yards passing and another 70 or so running. Outstanding.
Next, the way he directed traffic looked like a veteran. He was calling protections and moving personnel around seamlessly.
Mechanically, his ballhandling in the run game and receiving shotgun snaps was solid, his release is quick and decisive and his footwork is crisp. He looks well-schooled and fundamentally sound.
Also, in the pocket, he seems to feel pressure. He has that instinct and knows when to step up or to the side or when to tuck the ball and run. He has surprisingly quick feet and is elusive, not only in the pocket, but in the open field.
Texas A&M Defensive Coordinator John Chavis, a wily veteran, threw a lot of different looks at Shea and it didn’t seem to faze him.
Here’s hoping the first play of the fourth quarter was what we have in store for us. Rolling right, deep in A&M territory, Shae was boxed in and nobody was open. He reversed field, aka Archie Manning-ish, and found DeMore’ea Stringfellow alone in the end zone. A wow! moment for sure.
Sure, there were some throws he’d probably like to have a second shot at. Sure, there were decision-making issues, but he took care of the ball except for one bad throw that led to an interception – the number one priority in any offense.
Other than that, he was dropping dimes on the Aggies in that second half.
And led the late drive that secured the win with Gary Wunderlich’s game-winning field goal.
In short, the future looks bright at quarterback. The kid can ball and will only get better and better. He’s going to be a lot of fun to watch in the coming games and years.
And I, for one, am glad I was here to see his successful, winning, eye-opening, excellent, out of this world debut.
It was worth every penny, mile and crappy flight.
I can’t wait to head to Nashville.