Last Saturday, Ole Miss’ spring football practices culminated in the Grove Bowl, the annual spring game that pits Rebel against Rebel in a battle of pride between offense and defense.
While the game itself holds little importance, the fleeting glimpses of different players’ talents makes it invaluable for predicting fall success. As many assumed, the star of the game was none other than sophomore phenom Shea Patterson, who currently has the entire collegiate football realm on its toes, waiting for his potential to translate into a full collegiate season.
Patterson finished the day 21-30 while throwing for 341 yards and two touchdowns as the Rebels’ offense captured 31-29 victory over the defense, which was spotted a 27-0 lead to begin the game. While it may be worth noting that Patterson’s heroics came against a secondary littered with second- and third-stringers, it was the young quarterback’s grasp of the playbook that marked perhaps the most important takeaway from the game.
“He’s settled in,” head coach Hugh Freeze said. “It’s taken him a little while. [He had to] learn what drops went with which combinations, the run game and the checks off of [the run game]. He had a good understanding, and I thought he was really efficient.”
Freeze’s praise of Patterson’s ability to retain information and run the offense efficiently speaks volumes of the young quarterback’s maturity. Patterson’s ability with the football in his hand is undeniable – he was the top-ranked quarterback recruit in 2016 and stepped up as a true freshman for the final three games last season – but his ability to learn a playbook and run an offense was never certain. Though it seems Patterson has now answered those questions.
And while Patterson’s improvement has impressed both fans and coaches, the rising sophomore still has plenty of time to hone his skills and strengthen his understanding of the offense.
“We have the whole summer, which is great for us,” newly hired offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. “We get to slow it down, we get to teach a lot of the finer points, and [the players] get to work together and do their own thing. All those things will pay dividends in the fall because we’ll be past this sort of ‘Football 101.’”
From the mood surrounding spring practices and the Grove Bowl, there is no reason a new and improved Patterson will not be ready for full-time SEC quarterback duties in the fall. Though, as is often the case, the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. While Patterson’s playbook improvements have been exponential, he still retains that fun-to-watch, Manziel-esque demeanor Ole Miss fans quickly grew to love
“I don’t know that he’s changed a lot as a person,” Freeze said. “He has the same confidence as he did when he was called upon to go in against Texas A&M.”
With the same level of confidence and talent but an improved mastering of the plays and offense, Patterson should be a force to be reckoned with next season. As the Rebel defense found out last Saturday and the entire SEC will soon learn, the smart money’s on Patterson.