There are plenty of very legitimate reasons why the story of Ole Miss’ dramatic and redemptive upset of Texas A&M has focused so completely on Shea Patterson. The freshman quarterback was nothing short of incredible in his first collegiate action, racking up over 400 yards of offense and leading a fourth-quarter comeback in front of 100,000 screaming Aggies, all while under withering pressure from one of country’s most dominant defensive fronts. There’s also something to be said of Shea as a vessel of hope. He promises a future for a program trapped in an uncertain present, and Rebel fans have been understandably expeditious in focusing their attention on that promise.
Indeed, Patterson deserves every bit of the adoration he’s received (if not more). The reality, however, is that he didn’t win this game by himself. Let’s take a moment to recognize some of the other brilliant performances that helped fuel the upset in Aggieland.
The 2016 Ole Miss defense has allowed big plays (91st in defensive isoPPP), struggled to end offensive drives (84th in opponent points per trip inside the 40) and generally been a porous shell of the fearsome group that once called itself the Landsharks. But I’ll be damned if they didn’t turn the clock back to 2014 during the second against A&M.
A fast, aggressive defense anchored by a disruptive front and backed by rangy defensive backs allowed the Aggies to convert just three of their nine third downs in the second half, all three of which came on their lone scoring drive. A&M had four three-and-outs after halftime and saw its offensive success rate drop to 21 percent in the fourth quarter.
The Rebel D-line, which finally resembled the disruptive force we imagined it would be coming into the season, limited the A&M run game to 3.8 yards per carry, then harassed backup quarterback Jake Hubenak once he’d been forced into obvious passing downs. Benito Jones made a critical fourth-down stop that flipped momentum at the beginning of the half; Marquis Haynes logged a drive-killing sack to begin the fourth quarter; D.J. Jones showed spectacular athleticism and recognition while blowing up a screen pass; and Fadol Brown, well, he deserves his own section.
Ole Miss’ strongside defensive end barely played in the first eight games, but boy has he looked healthy since returning to the lineup two weeks ago against Georgia Southern. Brown logged 14 tackles in that game and his six against A&M don’t come close to properly representing the chaos he created in College Station.
Let’s take a look at a key series to begin the second half. After being handed a short field by a failed Ole Miss onside attempt, the Aggies appeared poised for a knockout scoring drive. On second-and-10 from the Rebels’ 40-yard line, Trayveon Williams broke loose on the left side but was chased down one yard shy of a first down by a hustling Brown. That rather innocuous play ended up being a game-changer, because on third-and-1, Brown tossed aside his blocker and forced the running back inside for no gain.
A&M elected to go for it on fourth-and-1, and after refusing to come out of the game, Brown came down the line and helped stall Kubenak’s second-effort.
A&M made it into Ole Miss territory just once more all night.
The key to Patterson’s success was his ability to extend plays and allow his talented wideouts the time to beat coverage. Credit them for doing just that. Rather than coasting after finishing their routes, the Rebel receivers stuck with the scramble drill and fought back toward the ball. Damore’ea Stringfellow drifting to open space on Patterson’s spectacular Johnny-esque first touchdown pass is the most obvious example, but Quincy Adeboyejo and Markell Pack deserve credit as well. Van Jefferson made up for a dropped touchdown by hauling in a fourth-quarter scoring bomb and A.J. Brown was an absolute beast after the catch.
Oh, and speaking of Stringfellow...
Are you kidding me?
On the very next play after String’s circus catch, Judd busted a 21-yard touchdown run to pull the Rebels to within 2 points.
That play epitomized Judd’s night—a banged up offensive line rarely gave him much room to work, but hard, determined running from the senior earned him a 5.0-yards per carry average and just his third 100-yard game of the season.
Judd’s ability to finish runs and fall forward hasn’t garnered him enough credit this season—Ole Miss’ official stat sheet claims he hasn’t been stopped behind the line of scrimmage a single time this season. Judd’s night in College Station was unspectacular outside of his long touchdown, but he was effective enough to make A&M respect the play action, which opened up receivers downfield for his young QB.
Before Saturday night, the junior kicker hadn’t been presented many opportunities for important, late-game field goals. That may in part explain why his spectacular 2016 season has gone largely overlooked by Ole Miss fans. Wunderlich has now drilled 19 of his 20 field goal attempts, his lone miss coming on a 55-yarder deep in garbage time against Georgia. He went three-for-three in College Station and Patterson’s heroic triumph is rendered a coulda-been moral victory without Wunderlich’s game-winning 39-yarder in the final minute.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Who else do you think deserves a shoutout? Leave ‘em in the comments.