HOOVER, Ala. — Ole Miss won’t have nearly as much to play for this season, considering the school has self-imposed a one-year bowl ban and is ineligible to win the league title. Taking that into consideration, Rebel fans will have to find other reasons to get excited heading into the 2017 season. During their Thursday appearance at SEC Media Days, the Ole Miss contingent may have just provided the program’s fan base multiple reasons for optimism heading into the upcoming campaign.
Arguably the biggest bright spot for the program is the promise of second-year quarterback Shea Patterson. With Chad Kelly now suiting up for the Denver Broncos, there’s no question who the new leader of the Ole Miss offense is heading into 2017.
During his Q&A segment in the main ballroom of the Hyatt Regency in Birmingham, Rebel coach Hugh Freeze teased just how gifted and prepared Patterson is to take the program’s offense to new heights this season.
“I don’t know that I can help him at all or that our coaching staff can help him with his release. It’s pretty good. One of the better I’ve seen coming out of high school,” Freeze said. “His feet can — you know, maybe Longo can help him some with that. His running around, I wish we could take credit for training him to do that, but that just comes natural to him.”
If that last statement reminds you of Johnny Manziel, you aren’t alone. Since his college debut, ironically enough against Texas A&M last November, Patterson hasn’t been able to shake comparisons to Manziel. The Ole Miss QB was even asked about the comparisons during his interview session in Hoover.
“Yeah. It’s awesome. I tend to watch those guys — guys like Johnny and Aaron Rodgers I can’t watch enough film of them because I like the way they extend plays,” Patterson admitted. “You watch so much film and video of them on YouTube, you find yourself doing the same stuff they do without even trying to do it. It’s definitely a benefit to have that ability to extend plays.”
And it’s not just Freeze that’s been impressed with what Patterson can bring to the field. While being as impressed as anyone with what Patterson has shown in his brief college career, junior Javon Patterson, the offensive line’s SEC Media representative in Hoover, has been equally as impressed with his quarterback’s offseason work ethic.
“You’ve seen what he can do against Texas A&M,” the lineman said. “He has potential, great kid. He’s a hard worker. He’s a gym rat, first one in last one out. His potential man, he’s using that this spring. He’s ready to bring that to the fall.”
Aside from the excitement Shea Patterson will potentially bring to Oxford as the ideal trigger man in the team’s new-look offense, Freeze admitted his team plans to play with a form of reckless abandon in 2017. Without having the prize of a bowl game to look forward to, Freeze acknowledged his high octane offense would be even more aggressive this season.
Taking additional chances, going for it more often on fourth down and heading into games with an aggressive mindset could all potentially play into a strategic advantage for Ole Miss. With several SEC coaches facing some level of uncertainty regarding their futures, it’s easy to forecast Freeze’s fellow coaches playing not to lose this fall in the face of mounting pressure.
If the Rebels stick to their namesake and lean the other way, competing with reckless abandon this fall, it could be a massive advantage — a fact not lost on Freeze.
“If you’re playing a defense where you feel like we’re going to struggle to get our 30 points that we want, and you can steal an extra possession because it’s fourth and one — in the plus 40 or minus 40 or near the 50, I’d probably be more apt to (go for it),” Freeze said. “If it’s third and six, I may feel we are going two downs, you treat third down differently.”
While fans in Oxford may be hurt by the loss of a potential season-ending trip to an exotic bowl destination, it appears as if the Rebels plan to make up for it with an exciting brand of football unlike any other during Freeze’s tenure. Considering the uptempo and high-flying nature of the Ole Miss offense in recent seasons, that should be reason enough to grab the attention of Rebel fans in 2017.