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Shea Patterson vs. Jordan Ta’amu: The competition too good for this world

Who would have reigned supreme come September?

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the season, all eyes were on Shea Patterson to lead the Rebels through a tumultuous year. The former No. 1 overall quarterback recruit had played in three games as a freshman, looking great in one (Texas A&M) and below average in the others (Vanderbilt and Mississippi State). Of course, he was knocked out of the LSU game in 2017 with an injured knee and ultimately lost for the remainder of the season.

That was when mostly unheard of backup quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, a junior college transfer from New Mexico, made his mark. Ta’amu went on to complete 66.5 percent of his passes on the year, which would have been a school record if he had thrown enough passes to qualify. He threw for over 350 yards in each of his first three starts (Arkansas, Kentucky, ULL), had a rough and unproductive game against Texas A&M at home, and then rebounded to upset Mississippi State with an admirable showing at Davis-Wade Stadium.

And so the team had a quarterback controversy on its hands.

Who would start next season, with two capable quarterbacks ready to duke it out? The former all-everything, U.S. Army All-American? The up-and-coming JUCO transfer?

Well, we never got to find out because then Shea Patterson transferred to Michigan, leaving a budding controversy inherently decided.

So who was better? Who actually would have started next season? Many fans on both sides of the argument feel pretty passionate that their guy would have been the guy. I thought it might be helpful to dive into the statistics a little bit.

And what I found was, essentially, inconclusive

So the Defensive S&P+ numbers of the six teams Patterson faced was, in order, 65th, 77th, 3rd, 5th, 68th, and 17th (for the sake of my sanity, I’m removing the FCS team). Those were some tremendous defenses, in general. On the flip side, Jordan Ta’amu faced five defenses ranked 112nd, 102nd, 126th, 66th, and 20th. He blew up against those first three teams, much like Patterson did in his first two, and was average in his final two, also much like Patterson was.

Now statistics obviously don’t prove anything one way or the other, especially with such a ludicrously low sample size, but at the very least, we didn’t see either quarterback really run away with this thing statistically.

So what about the eye test?

This is the real delineation, though I’m not really sure it proves either is better than the other.

Shea Patterson’s game is built around making stuff happen when plays break down. His arm is incredible, and his quick release allows him to do some really cool stuff with the ball at times. However, I don’t think anyone would argue that he’s a player who sticks to the system. This leads to some incredible plays but also some puzzling three-and-outs where things just don’t really work for him, as he holds the ball too long looking for the big play. Still, his talent is pretty spectacular.

Ta’amu, on the other hand, does his best work when he’s living within Phil Longo’s system and not improvising. He goes through progressions and gets the ball out when it fits within rhythm. He’s not someone who will do something magical to extend the play, unless it’s just scrambling for good yardage. It remains to be seen how this approach will work in games against incredible defenses who could just cover everyone and put the onus on Ta’amu to make a play. I do think his placement, especially on the long ball, is better than Patterson though.

So, they’re both fine, and the answer is I really don’t know

I’m so sorry. I loathe articles that are wishy-washy and don’t stake a claim one way or the other, and I just wrote one. I really, truly wanted this article to be proclaiming one was head and shoulders above the other. It’s just that the more I thought about it the harder it became to make that claim. They’re both good quarterbacks, and I think it’s too close to call who would start next year in this hypothetical.

The bottom line is this: a great quarterback just left Oxford, and yet Ole Miss fans can still be happy about the QB position. Isn’t that just the wildest thing?