Coming off of head coach Matt Luke’s first victory at the helm in week one, the Ole Miss Rebels and the UT Martin Skyhawks squared off in Oxford on Saturday. The Rebel faithful were treated to another record-breaking performance by the offense and an uneasy showing by the defense.
Early on, the Skyhawks controlled the game. They started the game off with a seven-play, 75-yard drive that featured only one pass attempt. Running back Ladarius Galloway continually caused missed tackles, running for an average of 8 yards per carry in the first quarter. The success on the ground led to a big play in the passing game when quarterback Troy Cook faked the hand-off and hit his tight end Chris Philpott for 31 yards.
The Rebels’ tough start on defense was not aided by the offense’s inability to sustain drives. The first drive was stalled after only three plays. Damarkus Lodge dropped a pass on second down that would have extended the drive. The second drive showed promise, as Shea Patterson was able to find open receivers, and Jordan Wilkins found yards in the running game. However, the drive came to an abrupt halt when Patterson was picked off. The short field allowed the Skyhawks to get a field goal after they were gifted good field position, pushing the deficit to 9-0.
In the lone bright spots of the first half, Patterson was able to uncork a couple 58-yard long passes. One was a touchdown to A.J. Brown, and the other was a big gain to Lodge that set up a 21-yard Gary Wunderlich field goal. Set up by a 42-yard reception by D’Vaughn Pennamon, Patterson was able to find A.J. Brown for his second touchdown of the game. Brown gave the Rebels their first lead of the game with less than 30 seconds in the half.
The offensive momentum gathered at the end of the first half carried over to the third quarter. The offense produced two touchdown drives in the first six minutes of the second half, when Phil Longo started relying heavily on the passing game. Wilkins then added a short touchdown run and a 16-yard touchdown catch early in the third quarter.
Alongside the strong offensive attack, a completely different defense emerged from the locker room after the half. Led by leading tackler DeMarquis Gates with nine tackles, the Rebels were no longer missing tackles and stifling the run game. After allowing the Skyhawks to gain 152 yards on the ground in the first half, the Rebels limited the Skyhawks to 67 rush yards in the second.
Patterson, feeding off the defensive stops, was his usual self. He threw the ball all over the field and connected with a plethora of receivers. In addition to Brown’s two touchdowns, Damarkus Lodge, D.K. Metcalf and Jordan Wilkins got into the end zone. Following his emerging No. 1 target’s record-breaking performance a week ago, Patterson broke Chad Kelly’s single-game passing yards record of 465. Patterson tallied 489 yards and completed 74 percent of his passes.
After the game, Patterson was humble and gave credit to the 10 guys on the field with him as well as the man calling the plays.
“It takes more than one guy to break a record,” he said. “It takes receivers, offensive linemen and the right calls.”
Patterson will get most of the credit for today’s performance. However, the linemen kept the pocket clean all game and the receivers got open.
Offensive coordinator Phil Longo’s offense is allowing Patterson to shine. He allows his quarterback the opportunity to display his skill set – a big arm and excellent athleticism. Longo notices something about his signal caller that most people would not.
“There are five explicit plays that I can think about where he had to be an intelligent quarterback,” Longo said, referring to Patterson’s ability to think and move through his progressions.
The group that benefits most from Patterson’s ability is, of course, the wide receiver core. The numbers it put up Saturday are just another example of what will happen every week if the quarterback plays well. The combination of a high volume of pass plays and a quarterback who can get it the ball is the perfect recipe.
“When the ball is in the air, receivers get happy,” Damarkus Lodge said of the offense. He thinks Shea can break his own record week in and week out because of the offensive system that Longo has created.
For Gary Wunderlich, his game did not go as well as the offense’s. After missing a field goal and an extra point a week ago, Wunderlich added another missed field goal, this time from 37 yards. The preseason Lou Groza Award watchlist recipient needs to regain confidence and become the nearly automatic kicker he was a year ago.
Ultimately, in a game that started off slowly, the Rebels eventually pulled away from UT Martin. Patterson spread the ball around to the many receivers at his disposal, and while the run game and stopping the run game are areas of concentration as the season progresses toward SEC play, the Ole Miss Rebels left the field 2-0.