Shea Patterson’s injury muddies Ole Miss’ quarterback picture

Published 12:45 am Sunday, October 22, 2017

It looked harmless enough.

Sure, the change of possession hurt an Ole Miss team that can’t afford to have many empty offensive possessions with the way the defense is getting gouged, but fans, coaches and teammates are praying an interception is the only bad news that ends up coming from Grant Delpit’s pick of Shea Patterson late in the first half of LSU’s 40-24 win over the Rebels on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Patterson wasn’t hit on the throw but immediately began hobbling toward the Rebels’ sideline after the play. He was rushed into the medical tent by trainers and evaluated. Offensive coordinator Phil Longo soon followed, checking to see if it was serious enough that he needed to get backup Jordan Ta’amu warming up.

It was then that LSU coach Ed Orgeron’s return to Oxford became a subplot to the game’s biggest storyline: the status of the most important knee in Ole Miss’ football program.

Patterson eventually limped to the locker room with what interim coach Matt Luke said has initially been diagnosed as a sprain. The sophomore will be further evaluated over the weekend for an injury that, if it turns out to be a severe sprain or worse, could have a dramatic impact on the rest of Ole Miss’ season.

“We’ll have to evaluate him (Saturday night) and (today) to know the extent of it,” Luke said afterward.

Patterson returned in the second half with a brace for support but played about how you’d expect someone to play on a bum knee. The pain limited his ability to push the ball down the field while the brace limited his mobility. It got to a point where Ta’amu took over for Patterson for good in the fourth quarter after the sophomore was sacked for the third and final time.

And with that, Luke could be facing a dilemma.

Maybe Patterson’s injury isn’t that bad and he’ll play again this season. Maybe it’s worse and this all becomes moot with Ta’amu having to take over the reins of the offense from here on out.

But if it’s somewhere in the middle — an injury where Patterson could play on it but nowhere near 100 percent — would Patterson be the best option at a position where massive production is the only option if the Rebels want to win more games?

Despite Patterson entering Saturday’s game as the SEC’s top passer and ranked third nationally in passing yards per game, Ole Miss has still lost more games than it’s won because of a running game that hasn’t been much of a threat and a defense that continues to get run over. The Rebels have given up at least 35 points in all four of their SEC games largely because they’ve yielded at least 300 rushing yards in three of them, which is a sign of the talent level moreso than schemes at this point of the season.

Ole Miss is going to have to outscore teams in order to win more games this season, making it imperative that the Rebels have the best option behind center. Patterson is undoubtedly the answer if he’s healthy, but he won’t be full strength for Arkansas next week. No sprain, if that’s all it is, heals that fast.

Ta’amu held his own against LSU with the Tigers keeping most of their starters in throughout the game. The junior college transfer went 7 of 11 for 78 yards through the air and added 20 yards on three carries. Offensive coordinator Phil Longo said the offense wouldn’t change much if the Rebels have to move forward with Ta’amu, but Patterson is more of a scrambler whereas the 6-foot-2, 212-pound Ta’amu is more of a true running threat that defenses would have to account for.

“He can do some things with his legs, and I was impressed with him throwing the ball tonight,” Luke said of Ta’amu. “He led us on touchdown drives right before the end of the game. At the end of the half, he led us on a field-goal drive. I think that gave him some valuable experience where if that is the case (that he has to play), I’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”

If it’s an injury Patterson can play with, it’s hard to believe a banged-up version of the Rebels’ starter is still a better option than a healthy Ta’amu, but that’s Luke’s call to make. It’s not one that can be made lightly.

Davis Potter is the Ole Miss beat writer for the EAGLE. Contact him at davis.potter@oxfordeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DPotterOE.