Ole Miss freshman QB Shea Patterson impressive in debut
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) Mississippi's Shea Patterson was nervous in the moments before Gary Wunderlich lined up for a game-winning field goal attempt against Texas A&M, so the quarterback said a few encouraging words to his kicker.
Wunderlich then nailed the 39-yarder for a 29-28 win over the then-No. 10 Aggies.
After the game, the kicker had a good-natured message for Patterson: Don't do that again.
''He doesn't like people talking to him when he goes out there,'' Patterson said with a sheepish grin.
Turns out even a precocious freshman like Patterson has a few things to learn on the field, even if his college debut was a stunning success in nearly every other facet . Patterson finished 25 of 42 passing for 338 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for 64 yards.
The raw numbers were certainly impressive. The fact he led a come-from-behind win in front of more than 100,000 fans in a road environment against a nationally ranked team makes it even more astounding.
''I thought Shea handled himself well,'' Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. ''I really believed he would or I wouldn't have done what I did in pulling his redshirt.''
Freeze had originally planned to redshirt Patterson this season. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder was one of the nation's top quarterback recruits last year, but he was stuck behind senior Chad Kelly, who threw for more than 4,000 yards in 2015.
But Kelly tore two knee ligaments in a Nov. 5 game against Georgia Southern, pushing Patterson into the spotlight one year earlier than expected.
The Shreveport, Louisiana, native was a little shaky at first against Texas A&M, but improved as the game progressed. Ole Miss trailed 21-6 after three quarters, but Patterson led the Rebels on four scoring drives in the fourth quarter, including the game-winner that ended with Wunderlich's field goal.
''I never really felt pressure,'' Patterson said. ''Having that offensive line in front of me and having those receivers making plays for me made my job a lot easier.''
Freeze said Patterson still has plenty to learn as the Rebels (5-5, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) try to become bowl eligible for a fifth straight season. Ole Miss travels to play Vanderbilt (4-6, 1-5) on Saturday.
The coach would like to expand the playbook some against the Commodores, especially since Vanderbilt's strength is a defense that is giving up 22 points per game, which ranks sixth out of 14 teams in the SEC.
Against Texas A&M, the playbook was limited.
''The second half we ran four plays, really, when you get down to it,'' Freeze said.
Now Patterson is dealing with the playbook along with his newfound celebrity on campus.
The Ole Miss fan base has been melancholy for most of the fall after early losses to Alabama and Florida State derailed any hope of a dream season. But Patterson's debut has given the program a much-needed lift.
He said he had around 300 text messages after the game from well-wishers, but is confident he can keep his focus on the field in the season's final weeks.
''We have a great group of seniors in (tight end) Evan Engram and (offensive lineman) Robert Conyers keeping me level-headed throughout the game,'' Patterson said. ''They just made my job so easy. So I just try to control what I can control and do what I can to help the team win.''
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