Shea Patterson trotted to the sideline in frustration in the second quarter against Texas A&M. He’d just received a welcoming to the show that is SEC football after Larry Pryor had picked him off. The freshman had made his first mistake of his college career. It could have flustered him. He could have compounded it with another. But the other 70 guys on the sideline made sure that didn’t happen, particularly the Ole Miss defense.
“The thing that sparked me was after I threw the interception. I’m not sure when that was, but the whole defense came up and talked to me and told me it was okay and that they were going to get the ball back,” Patterson said. “That’s what really changed my mindset. Man, these guys are behind me, and I have a great support staff.”
That calmed Patterson for the rest of the game. It aided him as the pressure intensified under the lights in College Station on Saturday night. One hundred and four thousand restless fans later watched the 19-year-old jog back out onto the field with just three minutes remaining in the game. Down 28-26, the simple fact of the matter was that Ole Miss needed points. It had clawed its way back into a ball game that it had no business winning. It was one score away from a gigantic moral boost and really a much different outlook on the season. It was the biggest moment of the night, but it wasn’t too big for Patterson.
“I never really felt any pressure. Having that O-line in front of me and those receivers out there making plays made my job a lot easier,” Patterson said. “The defense played lights out in the second half. So just the people around me, the support I had around me and the coaches preparing me. Coach (Hugh) Freeze and Coach (Dan) Werner prepared me all week like I was the starter, so that really helped me.”
He made the throws, and he extended plays with his feet. He gave kicker Gary Wunderlich a chance to win the football game. When the Rebels needed it most, Patterson delivered.
“Once I got settled in there at the end of the second quarter, it felt like high school again,” Patterson said.
It took a little time, though. The offense stumbled out of the gates as Patterson got his feet wet. After all, his first college start came in one of the most enormous venues in college football, against a top-10 team, while going to war with an offensive line that was hurting.
“I thought Shea (Patterson) handled himself well; I knew he would, or I probably wouldn’t have done what I did in pulling his redshirt,” Head Coach Hugh Freeze said, “A lot of playmakers made plays around him, the Damore’ea (Stringfellow) catch, the Markell (Pack) catch, just a lot of good plays there, but I really think the heroes offensively are Robert Conyers and Sean Rawlings. Those are the kind of guys that go without attention, and neither really probably felt good enough to play, didn’t practice all week.”
Freeze said on Saturday night after the game that Patterson didn’t get bothered by a whole lot. The thickness of his skin was certainly tested in a hostile environment. He’d been hit. A couple of drives earlier, Myles Garrett planted him into the grass and came away with the football. He could have folded. Texas A&M was in control of the game at that point. He stuck it out.
“Luckily, we have a great group of seniors in Evan Engram and Robert Conyers really keeping me level-headed throughout the game,” Patterson said. “They just made my job so much easier.”
Ole Miss knew what Patterson was facing and rallied around him. And it resulted in their biggest win of what has been a rollercoaster ride of a 2016 season.