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Know Your Enemy: Previewing the Rebels Offense

The Shea Patterson aerial show arrives in Berkeley this Saturday evening.

South Alabama v Mississippi Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

A little over two months ago we featured a season preview of the Mississippi Rebels that was primarily about one player, Shea Patterson. I hope you are ready for a whole lot more of that as we take a deeper look at the Ole Miss offense.

Patterson has exploded in his first two games and—although it was against significantly less talented opponents—the results are damn impressive.

  • 918 total passing yards, second in the nation
  • 9 touchdowns, tied for first in the nation
  • Passer rating of 211.3, sixth in the nation
  • Completion percentage of 76.9, sixth in the nation
  • 11.8 yards per attempt, ninth in the nation
  • 9:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, second in the nation

The former number-one quarterback recruit in the country is certainly living up to the hype in 2017, all while doing so without his head coach Hugh Freeze, who has deservedly lost his job. The Mississippi offense has not suffered as a result, with the Rebels racking up over 1,000 yards of total offense in their first two games. The defense is another story, but we are here to talk about offensive firepower—and the Rebels have that in spades.

2017 Season to Date

There is only one other team in college football that has passed for more yards than the Rebels this season. The bad news for Cal fans? That team is Colorado State and they have played three games. The Rebels have racked up 918 yards through their pass attack, good for an average of 459 per contest. Patterson’s favorite target in the early season has been A.J. Brown who should ring a bell to many Cal fans as he was one of Jacob Peeler’s big targets in the 2016 class.

Brown leads the country in receiving through two games and his game totals are astounding. In the season opener, Brown amassed 233 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions and the following week dropped down to a pedestrian performance of 156 yards with another two scores. The guy is a stud and as the legend of Shea Patterson begins to form, so does that of A.J. Brown at Mississippi.

The run attack for the Rebels has not found the same success that the aerial attack has in the early season. This is a major cause for concern as Ole Miss wasn’t exactly playing Alabama during the first two weeks of the season. Senior Jordan Wilkins leads the Rebels in rushing and is averaging just above 3.8 yards per carry on 17 attempts. While 17 attempts across two games tells you just how committed the Rebels are to the run, their inability to execute a better rushing attack when they do choose to run may allow Cal’s defensive backs to sit back against Patterson.

A Couple of Homecomings

Welcome back Jacob Peeler! The coach Cal fans were most disappointed to see leave after Sonny’s firing has returned and is bringing a healthy stable of receivers with him. Behind the aforementioned Brown stand Damarkus Lodge and D.K. Metcalf who are both off to strong starts this season. Lodge is just outside the top 40 in receiving in college football and is 11th in the country with his three touchdown receptions. Metcalf was a former four-star recruit and has double digit receptions with over 120 yards in two games.

The position of wide receiver at Ole Miss is one area besides quarterback that won’t be an issue for years to come. Peeler has emerged as one of the more dynamic recruiters in college football and with talent like Trevor Davis, Bryce Treggs and Chad Hansen attached to his resume, I would expect another solid class coming to Oxford in 2018.

The second and certainly less celebrated homecoming will be the glorious return of the Air-Raid offense Cal fans were treated to over the last four years. Hugh Freeze made an interesting decision at the end of 2016 in letting offensive coordinator Dan Werner go, but created a fair amount buzz by bringing in Phil Longo—who commanded the best FCS offense in the country. In 2016, Longo’s offense averaged just a hair under #drop50 a game with 49.5 points per contest. Unsurprisingly, the focal point of his offense is quarterback efficiency and the results in 2017 reflect that. Patterson has thrived in the pass-first Air Raid and the Cal secondary will be facing their biggest challenge to date.

What to expect come Saturday

A whole lot of offense that features one of the best young arms in college football. While many Cal fans have bemoaned the fact we play the toughest schedule in college football this year, an optimist may mention that enables you to see a lot of talented athletes over the course of the year. The back-to-back combination of Patterson and USC’s Sam Darnold might be one of the best tandems you see in a two-week stretch in the years to come. Patterson is electric, he can throw on the run, and also is a legitimate threat on the ground. He will be a treat to watch at Memorial Stadium and is a name to remember on draft day a few years in the future.

The good news for the Bears defense is our linebackers (Devante Downs and Raymond Davison) are some of the better pass defenders in the conference and the Rebels run attack wouldn’t even scare the 2014 Cal bend-but-always-break defense. Expect Gerald Alexander and the Cal secondary to be the key to Bears success in this game. Big plays will happen but the Bears ability to limit those and cause turnovers on the defensive side of the football will determine Cal’s ability to win on Saturday.