So I was scouring through the bowels of YouTube this week, searching for game film to watch and review for future opponents, games I missed last week while drinking Dirty Gatorades and still trying to forget the Cal game, and I stumbled upon an instant classic from five years ago. The one game that got everyone’s attention in the late afternoon of November 10th, 2012. This was when the real legend of Johnny Football rose from the embers of a Kliff Kingsbury Air Raid offense and stunned the Crimson Tide.
If you need a reminder of just how that game went, here is your internet DeLorean. Fire it up to 88 MPH and enjoy.
Now I’m a sucker for offensive play calling, a quarterback making plays when the protection breaks down, and you guessed it, Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. But, re-watching this game got me thinking. It’s pretty well-known at this point that Ole Miss is facing quite the uphill battle against the Tide this weekend in Tuscaloosa, but most people thought the same thing when Manziel and the Aggies got to town. Granted, they were a seven-win team at the time, but still, no one thought they could unhinge Nick Saban’s defense quite like they did.
So how in the world can Ole Miss even come close to replicating this and giving them a puncher’s chance late in the 11th round of this weekend’s proverbial bout? Johnny and Kliff pretty much laid it out there for them. They ran the Air Raid in 2012 and had tremendous success and, hey whattya know, Phil Longo is already quite familiar with this offense! So is it possible to have lightning strike twice??
Let’s take a look.
The intermediate passing game needs to be efficient.
It is no secret that Ole Miss has had zero success running the football this season. Offensive coordinator Phil Longo has been known throughout his career to be well-balanced despite running an Air Raid scheme, but at this point, Phil desperately needs to play to his strengths. And that’s Shea Patterson and the nWo.
Five years ago, Kingsbury and the Aggies offense mixed in quick hitches and slants on first and second down to slow the Alabama pass rush and to essentially use that as a run play. Ole Miss fans might be familiar with this strategy because
Hugh Freeze Voldemort would do the same by utilizing quick wide receiver screens with Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell in the early years of his tenure. Longo needs to do the same with Patterson this weekend.
Quick, one-look reads will speed up the game and Shea’s eyes. It will be a one, two, throw or a one, two, go. If the hitch or slant is there to A.J. Brown, Van Jefferson, or Markell Pack, great! Take your three-to-five yards and get to 2nd or 3rd and medium. If it’s not, tuck it and take off, much like Johnny did. It’s minimal risk and is something that only makes the offense even more dangerous. Despite the play “breaking down”, Patterson is just as lethal outside of the pocket throwing on the run against a defense that is caught in a blitz and is scrambling to keep up receivers downfield.
Throw the daggum ball downfield.
After Kliffy would get to the aforementioned 2nd and manageable, he was usually looking to take a shot deep to Mike Evans or Ryan Swope. Manziel’s box score wasn’t something you would expect from an Air Raid offense (24-of-31 for 253 yards) but the intermediate completions that he made so much of set up those deep shots. This is something that Longo has to do on Saturday to keep Alabama’s defense honest and on their heels.
Shea Patterson has a better arm than Manziel, we know this much. But, what made Johnny so dangerous was when he took his deep shots, he was accurate and put it where only his guy was getting a play on it. This is paramount when playing Alabama because it seems like when you turn it over against Saban, you’re turning it over twice and touchdowns are worth 12 instead of six. Patterson will need to mirror Johnny’s strategy and test the Bama defensive backs over and over.
In 2012, the Aggies took their shots with their big physical receivers on the outside. Mike Evans and Ryan Swope look like dudes who would suit up for Jacob Peeler and they were a nightmare for Alabama that day (16 catches for 151 yards). Receivers like D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown must take advantage of their mismatches and make them count. Longo can use those quick first down throws to set up double moves and make Alabama pay when they bite and get caught with their eyes in the backfield.
Do not be afraid to take off and run.
Despite his backyard football antics, Manziel’s career numbers on the ground came from improvising and knowing when to tuck it and run. Jeremy Pruitt’s defense is going to come after Patterson on Saturday, there’s no doubt about that. But, this can be used against the Tide and can make them look silly if you catch them out of position. Johnny did it plenty in 2012 when Kirby Smart was losing his hair trying to defend him, and Shea needs to do it, too.
Pruitt’s defense is all about attacking. They are going to bring blitzes from every single angle and position and it is going to be a long night for the Rebels if Patterson tries to sit back there and be Tom Brady. The offensive line struggled mightily in the second half against Cal dealing with disguised blitzes and delays from the secondary, but if Shea can pick his spots and take off when Alabama is vulnerable, he could pick up huge chunks and move the sticks all night.
Manziel led the Aggies in rushing that day in Bryant-Denny (18 carries for 92 yards) and that could be more of the same this weekend. Now, it could be mainly because Shea is running for his life all night, or it could be because he took our advice and harnessed his inner Johnny OVO. Either way, Shea is going to be moving a lot due to the talent and speed on Bama’s defense, but if he can skillfully maneuver away from would-be pass rushers and catch someone behind the defense, maybe Ole Miss can make this weekend sort of wacky.
I don’t expect this weekend to be a win for the Rebels. You shouldn’t either. They’re banged up on the offensive line and Alabama is damn good at stomping on people’s throats and not feeling sorry for them. But, that doesn’t mean this game can’t get weird like it has been for the past three seasons. And what better way to make it even more weird than by reminding everyone just how maddening it was to defend Manziel.
Godspeed, Shea Butter. Go out there and get weird.