Forgotten star of the SEC, Ole Miss QB Jordan Ta'amu ready to emerge from the shadows
Ta'amu stepped in for Shea Patterson in 2017, and the Rebel offense didn't miss a beat
ATLANTA -- Shea Patterson's sophomore season at Ole Miss ended abruptly when he suffered a knee injury against LSU in mid-October, and the former five-star prospect eventually left for greener pastures at Michigan. But a funny thing happened down the stretch -- the Rebel offense got better.
The emergence of backup quarterback Jordan Ta'amu -- the forgotten star of the Patterson transfer saga -- gave life to a unit that struggled against tough SEC opponents. Patterson tossed two touchdowns and five interceptions against winning teams before his injury, and those two touchdowns came after Ole Miss dug a 35-point hole against Auburn. That was with Patterson as the unquestioned starter going into the season. In a pinch, Ta'amu tossed eight touchdowns and two picks against winning teams.
With a full offseason to decompress, coach Matt Luke is excited about the future of the Rebel offense.
"I am really impressed with him and where he left off," Luke told CBS Sports. "I'm excited to see what he will do in his second year in the offense -- the same offense -- and having a full offseason to prepare. Having the same system and the same pieces around him -- 103 total starts return on the offensive line -- so a lot of ways to throw."
Since the Egg Bowl win over Mississippi State, Ta'amu's biggest challenge has been to become a more complete quarterback.
"Just being smart with the ball, making the right decisions, going through my reads and putting the ball right in the box -- right where it needs to be," Ta'amu told CBS Sports. "I think our offense is very lethal."
With a wide receiving corps that features A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge, Ta'amu has high hopes for the Rebels to force games into shootouts in a hurry.
"Having the big guys out there is amazing," he said. "I know a 50-50 ball can become a 90-10 ball in a hurry because I know they will come down with it. They have the speed, they have the height and the have the flexibility to go get any ball they can. It's amazing to have those guys out there.
It isn't just Patterson's shadow that Ta'amu is hoping to step out of.
Growing up Pearl City, Hawaii, he, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton -- all fellow Hawaiians -- starred as high schoolers. What's more, they pattered their games after a legend.
"Growing up, we always watched [former Oregon quarterback and 2014 Heisman Trophy winner] Marcus Mariota," he said. "He's been my inspiration. He's been my role model. If he can do it, we know we can do it. He's given us hope and faith that we can do that. My goal is the same -- give kids out there hope. It doesn't matter if they come from a small island or where they come from, even if they went the junior college route or Division II route, it doesn't matter what route they took, just give them hope that they can play at this level."
Ta'amu proved he could do it last year under trying circumstances, with Hugh Freeze's departure in July, Luke's interim status as the head coach and Patterson's season-ending injury. While Mariota, Tagovailoa and Milton get the pub, Ta'amu is the fourth wheel that completes the Hawaiian drive to takeover college football.
He knows it. His coach knows it. He's out to let the world know it in 2018.
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