The legend of Shea Patterson continues to grow by the day, and for good reason. In his first career start, he led Ole Miss to its first win against an SEC West foe this season–impressive work from a true freshman who was not expected to play this season.
However, what might be most impressive about Saturday night for the Rebels is their defensive performance following Texas A&M’s final first half touchdown at the 6:43 mark in the second quarter. That included a game-sealing interception from another true freshman, Deontay Anderson.
Defense comes alive in second half
After trailing 21-6 at the half, the Ole Miss defense would allow just seven points in the second half, for the second consecutive week. Neither team scored in the third quarter. That could be attributed to the Rebels allowing just two first downs and not one single third down conversion in the period.
Patterson’s fourth quarter magic would not have been possible without a defense holding a very capable Texas A&M offense down.
Patterson and the offense rolled up 23 fourth quarter points to TAMU’s seven to give Freeze and Ole Miss their third consecutive win over A&M. That was a momentum surge for the entire program. It changed the feeling of the season, not only for fans, but perhaps inside the program, as well. The comeback showed players they can believe in Patterson, just as they did Chad Kelly.
The defensive performance should do the same for that side of the ball. The Landsharks have had a rough season, and injuries are a part of that, but Saturday night was a performance to build on.
Additionally, there appeared to be halftime adjustments. That was a common theme during the early years of Freeze’s tenure, but not as much so this season. In fact, Ole Miss has been on the other side of a few second-half rallies thus far, but on Saturday night in College Station, the defense helped Ole Miss return the favor.
Perhaps that can change the direction the season. Maybe it can spring the Rebels forward and propel them to two more wins in as many weeks. Heck, it could allow them to get to eight wins by season’s end.
Raise your hand if eight wins is something you would have taken this season–given the climate of the SEC West and the absence of Chad Kelly for four games. Most likely, much of Rebel Nation would gladly accept that result, especially when you consider the unfortunate amount of injuries Ole Miss has suffered on both sides of the ball.
The defensive improvement in the past six quarters can be attributed to many things, but it is hard to ignore the impact of Fadol Brown since his return from injury. Against the Aggies, Brown recorded six tackles, four of them solo.
On Saturday the Rebels only allowed A&M to gain 129 rushing yards, over 100 yards less than the Aggies average per game. Taking away balance allowed Ole Miss’ young secondary to manage a group of talented wideouts and not allow them to win the game through the air.
If the Rebels are to reach bowl eligibility, they have two more difficult rushing attacks to corral in the coming weeks. Vandy’s Ralph Webb is going to be a 1,000-yard rusher this season, barring injury. Currently Webb sits at 960 rushing yards, while averaging five yards per carry, and has scored seven times on the ground. As a team, Vanderbilt has 17 rushing scores on the season.
In two weeks Ole Miss will try to contain Nick Fitzgerald and a Mississippi State rushing attack that averages 213 yards per game. Fitzgerald averages 5.8 yards per tote, and has a total of 854 yards (including sacks) and eight scores on the ground this season.
Dave Wommack’s unit must continue to play at a high level, just as Patterson and company must on offense, for the Rebels to get their season back to where fans and those inside the program want it to be. The turn of the season can already be felt outside the program, as Ole Miss secured a commitment from Texas wideout RJ Sneed following Saturday’s win. More wins are sure to bring more excitement.
Ole Miss and Vanderbilt square off at 7:00 p.m. Saturday in Nashville. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.