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Shea Patterson’s ready for a sophomore leap

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The face of the program showed enough flashes of brilliance last year to foreshadow a jump in year two.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Less than two weeks until the 2017 opener against South Alabama, which we could totally lose, we have a general idea of the personnel make-up of Ole Miss — it’s a stacked, fun-as-hell offense and a thin, nerve-racking defense. CHAOS TEAM ENGAGE.

That being said, Shea Patterson’s undoubtedly the most important player on the team, requiring a more granular look than anyone else. It’s assumed by many that improvement is sure to come, and while that’s a valid expectation, there are actual games we can look back to for confirmation. As tempting as it may be to single out only the good moments and pander to fans, it’s equally critical to find areas needing improvement.

Three games is a small sample size, but that’s what’s available to us. The 1-2 finish isn’t what’s going to define the quarterback, but it’s worth seeing if anything of value can be gleaned from the little field action he saw.

For a point of reference, here’s how Patterson compared to his predecessor Chad Kelly against SEC opponents in 2016, excluding garbage time.

Name Yards per Attempt Yards per Completion Success Rate Touchdowns Interception Rate Sack Rate
Name Yards per Attempt Yards per Completion Success Rate Touchdowns Interception Rate Sack Rate
Kelly 7.93 14.14 44.44% 9 2.22% 5.56%
Patterson 5.85 11.60 34.51% 5 1.77% 8.85%

Understandably, the true freshman couldn’t keep up with the standard of production that Kelly had set through his 22 games as a Rebel, although he did throw picks at a lower rate. By no means does that serve as some foreshadowing for 2017, and a more detailed view is needed to get any meaning out of Patterson’s debut.

Opponent Completions Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt Yards per Completion Success Rate Touchdowns Int
Opponent Completions Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt Yards per Completion Success Rate Touchdowns Int
Texas A&M 25 46 313 6.80 12.52 37% 2 1
Vanderbilt 14 31 123 3.97 8.79 26% 1 0
Mississippi State 18 36 225 6.25 12.50 39% 2 1

Splitting his numbers by game shows that the team’s goose egg in Nashville dragged down his overall stat line a good bit. The loss to that surging Vandy team can’t be ignored, and we acknowledged the offense’s shortcomings at the time, but Patterson maybe deserves a pass for a night on which everyone looked terrible (except for the Commodores).

The more important takeaway is that he demonstrated tremendous upside at times, which is all you can really hope for from a freshman being thrown into a less than ideal situation. He turned around a rough start against A&M to throw for 10.3 yards per attempt in the second half, and repeatedly came up clutch on passing downs. Across those three games, Shea’s touchdown drives only took 17.6 seconds per play, indicating he’s more than capable of playing at the tempo Phil Longo intends to command.

Both Kelly and Patterson had to improvise as passing plays broke down, so it’s not crazy to also compare their rushing numbers side by side.

Name Runs Yards Yards per Carry Success Rate Highlight Yards per Opportunity
Name Runs Yards Yards per Carry Success Rate Highlight Yards per Opportunity
Kelly 40 253 6.33 35% 3.68
Patterson 32 218 6.81 56% 4.03

Patterson was a better runner in pretty much every aspect, and displayed all the instincts of self-preservation you’d want from a prized quarterback whose injury would spell disaster for the rest of the season. He got the necessary yards far more often than Kelly, and did slightly more at the second level, too.

To filter out only the good and not address the bad would be delusional, and not all of the young QB’s hiccups can be entirely cast aside as merely the byproduct of being a freshman.

His completion percentage was a whole eight points lower than Kelly’s at 54.8, and for an offense reliant on explosive plays, 11.6 yards per completion was a bit underwhelming. The offense struggled to finish drives more than usual with him at the helm, as their average of 5.3 points per scoring opportunity through nine games fell to 4.4 by season’s end. At least some of this can be blamed on Hugh Freeze’s dumbassery near the end zone, but both of Shea’s picks came inside the other team’s 40-yard line.

It wouldn’t be right to put a microscope on everything the freshman did wrong and not mention how shaky the rest of the offense was. An already floundering offensive line had completely fallen apart, and given what we know about Patterson’s elusiveness in the pocket, that sack rate of 8.9 percent is more on the front than anyone else. The receivers had dropped some critical passes, most notably in the beating from Vanderbilt.

It’s reasonable to suggest Patterson should see significant improvement in year two. The averages below highlight how SEC quarterbacks have progressed from their freshman to sophomore seasons since 2000.

Yards per Attempt Yards per Completion TD/Int Ratio
Yards per Attempt Yards per Completion TD/Int Ratio
+0.88 +0.9 +42%
Numbers from nola.com

A handful of ultimately meh quarterbacks included in those numbers downplay how big the jump for Patterson could really be. As unstable as the offense seemed toward the end of 2016, he’s in an enviable spot in terms of the weapons available to him heading into 2017. Barring any major injury along the starting five, the line should also be set to offer up better protection and make it easier to stay on schedule.

Combine the riches in player personnel, more systematic play-calling, and how much of a sure thing he was considered going into college, and it’s hard to worry too much about any shortcomings from that small sample size. All the hype around Patterson is still justified, but in case there are any remaining doubts, he’s prepared to shush them once and for all.