OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) - Matt Luke and his staff are figuring out how to remedy the latest dosage of adversity administered to this Ole Miss team.
It was announced on Sunday morning that sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson will miss the remainder of the season with a torn Posterior Cruciate Ligament, a knee injury that will require surgery. Patterson’s knee will be immobilized for the next 2-3 weeks and will be re-evaluated by doctors to see if he needs surgery. It is a 3-4 month recovery process, according to Luke. A kid who has shouldered the weight of a football program, Patterson will be confined to the sidelines for the final five games.
"To see a guy like Shea work as hard as he does and see his season end the way it did, personally, it hurts you because you know how much he cares and how hard he has worked,” offensive coordinator Phil Longo said.
Jordan Ta’amu will be asked to step into Patterson’s shoes. The junior signal caller was 7-of-11 for 78 yards in Saturday’s loss to LSU, a more than competent line for a guy seeing SEC action for the first time. He drove the team down the field in the final minutes of the first half for a field goal and also orchestrated a 66-yard touchdown drive late in the game. Ta’amu threw the football fairly well. It’s a limited sample size, but he is an athletic guy that, like Patterson, can make plays with his feet. The playbook will obviously be consolidated to a degree, but he did enough to make Luke feel more comfortable.
“I was pleased with his timing,” Luke said. “He pulled the ball down and got positive yards, and I think that’s one of his strengths. He can really run, and he’s a very good athlete. I think everyone else around him has to step up. O-line, receivers and running backs have to do a great job keeping the game plan simple for him so he can just go execute. I think the more we do that, the better chance we have.”
Patterson’s knee wasn’t the only significant portion of injury news. Center Sean Rawlings is going through concussion protocol and is questionable for Saturday’s game against Arkansas. Running back Jordan Wilkins injured his ankle and could miss game action. Ross Donelly and C.J. Moore are both questionable as well.
The Wilkins injury is a particularly unfortunate one. He had emerged over the last month as a threat in an Ole Miss running game that was previously ineffective. Wilkins had run for at least 80 yards in each of the last four games. Expect Eric Swinney and D’Vaughn Pennamon to see more touches if Wilkins is unable to go.
“I’m hoping Jordan can play, it’s just with that ankle, you just don’t know, so he probably won’t practice until Wednesday or Thursday,” Luke said. “But Swinney, I love his physicality. He looked like he’s got his burst back, which is what we all saw when he first got here and what we were all so excited about.”
With Ta’amu elevated to starter, Ole Miss will need to solidify a back-up quarterback. The most likely option looks like former quarterback-turned-tight-end Jason Pellerin. The sophomore saw game action last year when Chad Kelly went down against Georgia Southern. He has experience, but none in Longo’s system. He spent most of the spring trying to get adjusted to his new position on the exterior offensive line, but he is an option should something happen to Ta’amu.
“I think there will be some rust that he’ll have to shake off,” Luke said. “He does have some experience, and I think that will help him. But, we’ll have to have different packages. He’ll be able to do some things with his legs in some wildcat formations. It won’t be anything new, it’ll be the same run schemes we already do.”
Ole Miss again struggled to defend the run against LSU, a re-occurring issue that allowed the Tigers to compile 393 yards on the ground. Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff knows what he would do if he were Arkansas this weekend.
“If you’re Arkansas, you wouldn’t do anything else but try to come in and run the ball early and test the run defense,” McGriff said. He said the Rebels will attempt to slow them down by getting some bigger bodies inside the tackle boxes with the hope of clogging running lanes.
“One of the things we’ve got to do is get some bigger bodies on the field,” McGriff said. “We’re going to look at, when they come out in 12 personnel, 22 personnel, 21 personnel, we’re going to look at playing a little bit more regular personnel.”
McGriff pointed to putting a more athletic linebacker combination on the field, one that may include the likes of Brenden Williams and former running back Jarrion Street alongside DeMarquis Gates. With Arkansas being injured at quarterback - Austin Allen has missed the last two games with a shoulder issue - the primary focus for the Rebels will be trying to find any way they can to slow down the run.
“With the injuries we’ve had, we’ve got to look at doing something a little bit different. We can’t stay the same,” McGriff said. “But even if you’re in regular personnel or sub-defense, your gap integrity stays the same. We definitely have to be consistent in terms of fitting our gaps and owning our gaps and being downhill.”
The injuries are beginning to mount for this young team that’s already faced a good bit of adversity. It will now turn to Ta’amu to guide them the rest of the way.
“I was very pleased with Jordan’s opportunity,” Luke said. “You kind of have to base it on what you saw in the game. That’s really what we’re going off of. He’s very capable. He’s been preparing and his moment came, and he stepped up into that moment and took advantage of the opportunities he had.”