After he tore through A&M defensive coach John Chavis’ D last season on the road in his first college start ever, much of the fanbase including myself thought Shea Patterson might be ahead of the curve with this whole “grasping the college offensive playbook” thing.
Then, Dan Werner was let go and Phil Longo was hired.
Then, July came and this happened.
Things turned south.
Patterson struggled against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State in 2016, and many were optimistic that his mastery of Hugh Freeze’s offense would come in handy while learning Longo’s new offense on the fly, but that’s just not the case. Longo Ball is a completely different monster full of different plays, reads, and checks. Shea’s dealing with a completely different schoolmaster.
And despite learning a brand-new system while dealing with a NCAA cloud that seems to never float away, Patterson has captained an undermanned 2017 squad en route to SEC passing category ceilings entering week seven of the season. At the time of this writing after the Auburn loss, Patterson leads the SEC with 1,792 yards passing and is tied for first with 13 touchdowns. That seems pretty good.
He is second in the league with a completion percentage of 66 percent, second in yards per attempt, and third in QBR. All the while being sacked 13 times and throwing six interceptions. So other than the three losses, what exactly is the beef with Shea? Well, whether it is worthy or not, I am here to point out some reasons as to why everyone just needs to chill.
He just learned his second system in as many years.
The true sophomore quarterback graduated from IMG Academy early so he could report to campus and start learning Hugh Freeze’s — wait, who? — system. Well, it paid off against A&M in a 300+ yards passing game and a road SEC win. But, other than that, it was hit or miss. But, hey he was a true freshman playing in the SEC. Now, he has learned a brand-new offense and is dealing with a supporting cast that, outside of some really talented receivers, needs to learn some fundamental things, like blocking schemes.
The offensive line has been less than stellar this year, thanks in large part to Sean Rawlings battling an ankle injury and impending surgery, and dudes being moved around to positions they are not used to. LOSING A STARTING CENTER IS A BIG DAMN THING. Add to it the fact that the run game has been virtually non-existent (Ole Miss is averaging less than three yards per carry in the first half) and Shea is having to do a lot of this offense thing on his own.
Which would be fine, if he wasn’t having to run an entirely different offense that he just spent an entire off-season and regular season learning. Longo has mentioned plenty that he wants to simplify things for Shea, which was evident against Auburn, but he is going to have to reassure Shea that he doesn’t have to do everything on his own and encourage him to use his outlets and checkdowns instead of going for the home run ball.
It’s an adjustment that Shea will need to get used to, those check down hitches and swing passes are what is going to move the chains more times than the go route 40-yards down field.
This is unusual territory for Ole Miss fans.
A young starter is something that Rebel fans have yet to experience since the late 90’s and early 2000’s. If memory serves me right, the last time Ole Miss was playing a true sophomore was when Romaro Miller and Eli Manning were under center at Ole Miss. That was a long time ago.
Since then, Ole Miss has seen the huddle led by the likes of Brent Schaeffer, Jevan Snead, Jeremiah Masoli, Randall Mackey, Bo Wallace, and Chad Kelly. If you need a walk down memory lane for these ancient names, here ya go:
- 4-star Brent Scaheffer - Tennessee > College of Sequioas > Ole Miss
- 4-star Jevan Snead - Texas > Ole Miss
- 3-star Jeremiah Masoli - City College of San Francisco > Oregon > Ole Miss
- 4-star Randall Mackey - East Mississippi Community College > Ole Miss
- 3-star Bo Wallace - Arkansas State > East Mississippi Community College > Ole Miss
- 4-star Chad Kelly - Clemson > East Mississippi Community College > Ole Miss
The point I’m making here is that these former signal callers all had the opportunity to go elsewhere, “grow up”, and get those pesky growing pains out of the way before doing their thing at Ole Miss. Shea was not “awarded” this opportunity. He was thrust into a starting role after Chad Kelly was knocked out last season with a torn ACL and has been the starter ever since. And he is still evolving, y’all.
So if you think about it, Shea Patterson is essentially still in his first year as the starter. His ninth game as the guy is this weekend at home against Vanderbilt. A familiar foe that he faced less than a year ago. He is essentially still going through new-hire orientation and doesn’t even have his employee badge to get in the building.
The game is starting to slow down for him.
After the two warm-up games to start the season, Shea enjoyed some early success at Cal before being tormented Jeremy Pruitt’s defense (1st in S&P+ defensive efficiency) in Tuscaloosa and chased around by Kevin Steele’s defense (7th) in Auburn a week later. But, it was some of the first half and all of the second half on The Plains where we saw Shea start to really operate within Longo’s system with some confidence. Granted, it was against Auburn’s second and third string, but progress is progress at this point.
Early on, Shea was forfeited the ability to go through his progressions on the road against the Golden Bears and Crimson Tide. The rush got to him too quick and he was either finding himself on his ass or fleeing the pocket and trying to find a receiver to hurl the ball to before being swallowed up.
But, against Auburn, Shea was actually surveying downfield, going over his options, and checking down to an intermediate our outlet route if need be.
On several occasions, Shea was taking what the defense was giving him last Saturday, finding Jordan Wilkins and D’Vaughn Pennamon in the flats, making quick, easy reads to slants, hitches, and swing routes if the space was there. That is what the Air Raid is after all: chasing space. And chase Shea did.
At the end of the day, Shea had spread the ball around to backs Pennamon and Wilkins and tight end Dawson Knox a total of 10 times for 112 yards.
He also was able to get the quick game going early on a few drives and late in the game to really stretch the Auburn defense and wear them thin. Despite not cashing it in for six points, the offense went tempo and the Tigers were winded and the receivers were having fun. A.J. Brown had 10 catches, Van Jefferson had eight catches, and D.K. Metcalf had four catches, two of which went for touchdowns.
Moving forward, I think the best case for Longo Ball to continue to get better and be effective is for Shea to make those quick reads to his big-bodied receivers and get them in space to do what they do best.
And if that’s not there, don’t force it, just check down to a back or tight end that is almost always left wide open with plenty of space to chase.
The criticism is fair, mind you. Longo’s offense has sputtered more times than usual. Lest we forget, this same Ole Miss team put the offense in Chad Kelly’s hands last season with this same very, very bad defense and they were 4-5 before he was knocked out of for the year. And Kelly is arguably the best quarterback the Rebels have ever had. Just saying.
The three and outs don’t help when your defense is a tattered piece of tissue paper. But, despite all the complaints, Shea and the nWo have shown signs of brilliance. Bill C. still has the Rebels ranked 27th in his S&P+ Rankings. They’re putting up 34.8 points per game and are 6th in explosiveness, 23rd in passing success rate, and 13th in passing IsoPPP.
As far as the final seven games of the season go, the good news is Ole Miss is not going to face any defenses close to what Alabama and Auburn trot out there. And outside of Mississippi State (28th) and Texas A&M (30th), the toughest defense Shea and Co. will face according to Bill’s defensive efficiency rankings is LSU (52nd). The others are Kentucky (63rd), Arkansas (69th), Vanderbilt (72nd), and Louisiana-Lafayette (126th).
Maybe there are more points and wins on the horizon. But, if there’s not, the criticism will be welcomed.