The final nail in Texas A&M’s coffin was hammered in when freshman safety Deontay Anderson intercepted Jake Hubanek with just a handful of seconds remaining in the game. It was a fitting end to a much-needed upset for a team whose season has largely been defined by youth and inefficiencies on defense.
On Saturday night in College Station, Ole Miss began to see the fruits of its labor from some of its younger players on both sides of the football. Greg Little was tasked with blocking one of the best defensive ends in college football in Myles Garrett. Garrett finished the game with one tackle. Ole Miss’ Shea Patterson was only sacked one time in the game.
A.J. Brown led the team in receiving yards with 77. Van Jefferson scored Ole Miss’ last touchdown in the fourth quarter. And, of course, no one shined brighter than true freshman Patterson. His first college start came in a way that he didn’t expect: in front of 104,000 people, behind an injured offensive line and facing a fierce pass rush.
“I told him at the hotel today before we left to just be who you are. Be who God created you to be. There is going to be some mistakes. Don’t blink. Play the next one,” Head Coach Hugh Freeze said. “Continue to communicate with me and Dan (Werner) and tell us what we are comfortable with. But man, don’t blink. Enjoy the moment. Not too many people get this opportunity.”
The offense sputtered a bit early, but Patterson weathered the storm. He stood tall, throwing the first two touchdown passes of his career. The moment wasn’t too big for him. Even in the game’s final minutes, Patterson was able to extend plays with his feet and gave kicker Gary Wunderlich an opportunity for his first career game winner.
“I have kind of always known he’s had that ‘it’ factor,” Freeze said. “I leave very few high school games thinking the kid is a no-brainer. We obviously have to develop them. But I got one opportunity to watch him play, and I left that game with a man crush on him. I mean that in the friendly version, but I just saw a kid with such poise, and mechanics are great. He can run. He can throw.”
If there is an area where Ole Miss has been criticized most, it is in the secondary. Ole Miss has been forced to play a number of freshmen on the back end of its defense. There have been some growing pains. It’s been hard. They’re still learning in their first full year.
“The difference tonight was really that we stopped the run and won first down and didn’t kill ourselves with screwing up a call or coverage,” Freeze said.
He noted a couple of mistakes in the first half, including a busted coverage that led to a big play and a later score.
“We are still playing freshmen. You would think they would have grown up by now, but they still make mistakes from time to time,” Freeze said. “We’ve got to coach them better. Sometimes there is a disconnect sometimes it seems on those.”
But at the end of the day, Texas A&M was only able to throw for 213 yards. Jaylon Jones had a pair of pass break ups. The secondary held its own for the majority of the game. Anderson’s interception was the icing on the cake. Ole Miss seemingly grew up a little bit on Saturday night as many got a glimpse into the future. Patterson gave this team a shot in the arm, and the young guys responded.
“The thing that is so rewarding is that I think the training ground for young men and for coaches in those times when it is like that, there is more you can learn from that in the great times,” Freeze said. “Being a person of faith, a lot of times that is what you hold on to. But, man I never saw our kids waver.”