Since the moment that Chad Kelly left Vaught-Hemingway Stadium last Saturday favoring his right leg, Hugh Freeze was faced with uncertainty, and once an MRI revealed significant damage to Kelly’s knee, Freeze has been faced with one of the more difficult decisions he has had during his tenure at Ole Miss.
Should he go with backup Jason Pellerin? Or should he take a peek into the future and let loose a talented true freshman in Shea Patterson?
After practice on Wednesday, Freeze made it clear that while he would talk to his coaching staff and the players’ families, it would ultimately be his decision. It appears as if he has reached one.
The Shea Patterson era has begun at Ole Miss. It was reported earlier today that Freeze will burn a potential redshirt on the highly-touted freshman from Shreveport, LA and intends on playing him this season.
This means a number of different things and there are a lot of dynamics in play here.
But here is what it doesn’t mean: It doesn’t necessarily mean that Patterson will start on Saturday night when the Rebels take on eighth-ranked Texas A&M on. Pellerin may very well get his crack at it on a short leash with Patterson ready to go if the offense sputters.
One would think that if Freeze was going to burn a year of eligibility, he would fully turn Patterson loose. He could very well end up doing so, and Patterson could start. But that isn’t a certainty.
Hugh Freeze was likely going to be criticized either way he went here, but in the end, it is likely the right thing to do for the program for a number of different reasons.
Finishing this season strong matters. Trying to get bowl eligible matters. It matters for a team that has had a trying six weeks, and is in desperate need for some kind of spark. The extra two weeks of practice matters for a defense that is young in the secondary as well as scarily thin at linebacker.
But probably more so than anything, It matters for the overall momentum for a program that has been stunted by an NCAA investigation that is now more than four years old. Recruiting has suffered as more de-commitments in its 2017 class have come. Garnering some momentum as the program enters an offseason of uncertainty is important.
Sure, it’s also a little dangerous. Throwing a 19-year-old kid in the game with a beaten and battered offensive line, in front of 114,000 people isn’t ideal. Keep in mind he is playing against Myles Garrett and a pretty fierce Aggie defensive line. Those aren’t ideal conditions for a young quarterback’s first start. He could struggle. He could get hit a lot. His development as a quarterback could be set back. Burning a redshirt that Freeze and his staff have tried to keep onto him for most of the season is an uncomfortable place to be.
But it’s the reality of where Ole Miss is, and that is between a rock and a hard place.
But he could play well. He could go 2-1 down the stretch with a potential Egg Bowl victory that would send the Rebels into the postseason. He could win the bowl game and largely erase the bitter taste that this season has put into the mouth of Ole Miss. It could end up serving as a glimpse into a bright future. Patterson has a number of weapons around him at receiver, and most of them will be around for the next couple of years as Patterson takes the reigns. He could succeed and develop even quicker.
The obvious truth is that we really don’t know what is going to happen. There are a lot of dynamics in play here, and the only thing that is certain is that this will be fascinating to watch play out.