Photo courtesy Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Shea Patterson had a three-game, crash course as Mississippi's quarterback in November after senior starter Chad Kelly went down with a knee injury.
Now, the Rebels belong to him.
Ready or not, the 6-foot-2, 203-pound sophomore is the new face of the Ole Miss football program. The former five-star recruit was the main attraction during Saturday's intrasquad spring game and for the most part delivered, completing 21 of 30 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns.
"He's settled in and everybody knows that," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "So he gives us a confidence."
Patterson's bright future is one reason for optimism in an otherwise uncertain time for the Ole Miss football program. The Rebels are coming off a disappointing 5-7 season and in the midst of an NCAA investigation for rules violations that already caused the program to self-impose a postseason ban for the upcoming season.
Patterson readily admits "it stinks" to not have a chance to play in the postseason, but said he and his teammates won't let that stop them from having a good season.
"We still have 12 games against the best teams in the country and play every day in the best conference," Patterson said. "The vision doesn't change."
Patterson — at times — lived up to his considerable five-star hype during his three games last season. He threw for 880 yards and six touchdowns and led Ole Miss on a stunning fourth-quarter comeback in a win over Texas A&M.
But there were also some negatives. He completed just 54.5 percent of his passes, which was considerably lower than Kelly's 62.5 percent mark. Freeze said Patterson also had a tendency to scramble when a little patience could have led to a big passing gain downfield.
Patterson has some talented playmakers around him. A.J. Brown, Van Jefferson and D.K. Metcalf will likely be the top three options at receiver after promising freshmen seasons.
They were productive during Saturday's spring game: Brown caught five passes for 133 yards, Metcalf caught four for 98 yards and Jefferson caught six for 126 yards. All of them caught a touchdown pass.
"The timing and chemistry is awesome this year," Patterson said. "Last year in the spring I was sharing second-team reps and going with the scout team. Now every day we're going with the ones and I'm getting that timing down with the receivers and they're used to my release."
The offense figures to be the strength for Ole Miss next season.
The Rebels expect to have starting running back Jordan Wilkins back after he missed last season because of academic issues. The offensive line looks solid, too: Sophomore left tackle Greg Little is one of four returning starters.
The only major change is with the coaching staff. Freeze brought in new offensive coordinator Phil Longo from Sam Houston State to shake up the playbook and change some of the terminology.
Longo said he was pleased with the way Patterson played on Saturday, especially considering his quarterback has only had a few weeks to digest the new playbook and terminology. Teams are allowed 15 workouts during spring practice.
"We're going to be a lot faster in the fall than we are right now," Longo said. "We weren't slower because of Shea. This is a 14-day product right now. Now we have the whole summer — which is great work for us. We get to slow it down and teach the finer points."