OXFORD – It wasn’t a call-out, but it was a challenge. The meaning from Ole Miss wide receiver Shay Hodge was unmistakably clear:
“Help a brother out.”
Locking in on one receiver can be fatalistic, that message coming from Hodge, the beneficiary of the attention.
Hodge has caught 38 balls this year, far and away the most by a full-time Rebels receiver. The next closest is Lionel Breaux with 10.
It’s necessary to point out here that Dexter McCluster has caught 27 passes, but he’s no longer a “full-time” receiver, if ever he was.
He is a full-time threat, though, and right now is the only Ole Miss offensive player who can be described in such complimentary fashion. Tiny McCluster has gained more than 200 yards of total offense in each of the last two games.
The Rebels need more production from a number of directions, certainly the supporting cast of receivers among them. Whether by comfort or game plan – most likely a mix of both – quarterback Jevan Snead appears to be set on getting the ball to Shay Hodge almost exclusively.
“Sometimes he locks on to me by design, but sometimes it’s because he’s very comfortable with me,” Hodge said. “That can have a negative effect. Sometimes teams can take away your No. 1 target, like some teams have done with Julio Jones (at Alabama) this year.”
Hodge, a senior, has been a dependable receiver his entire career and is currently the SEC’s No. 2 active receiver in catches, yards and touchdowns. He’d like to see a larger role for his teammates.
“Some of them have to step up and make big plays, and he’ll have more confidence in them,” Hodge said.
Snead’s tendency to lock onto Hodge has been a topic of television commentary, but the quarterback balks at the subject.
“In certain situations I may have it in my head to go to a certain person, a certain route that they might be good for,” Snead said. “But I feel like I’m going through my progressions overall. Sometimes I may hang on one too long, but as far as not reading defenses and coverage, I don’t feel there’s any truth to that.”
There is truth in numbers. No full-time wide receiver other than Hodge caught a pass in the Rebels’ 33-20 loss at Auburn. Markeith Summers, the team’s deep threat, had one catch for a 17-yard gain to the Auburn 46 negated by holding.
It was also Summers to whom Snead threw short, and the resulting tipped ball, after Summers dove, led to an interception and an Auburn touchdown.
Play-calling seems to infrequently attack the middle of the field, though that’s where Breaux had a catch against Arkansas and quickly skirted to the end zone.
You want to get Hodge his catches, because you know what he can do. You want to get McCluster his touches, because he’s your biggest playmaker, and you want to be balanced with the run and pass.
There’s talent there
There are only so many plays to be had, but there is talent at receiver that has had only a light impact on the season. Summers and Breaux made plays last season when they were even less emphasized among a unit that included Mike Wallace, who’s now catching NFL passes.
Talented freshman Pat Patterson, a physical receiver with strong after-catch skills, has caught nine balls but only five in the last six games. He hasn’t helped his own development by serving a one-game suspension against UAB.
Patterson appeared ready to take off after a four-catch game against Southeastern Louisiana, one of them a diving, full-extension touchdown on a fade route.
This group can produce more. And more – from anybody – would be welcome as the Rebels strive for seven wins and bowl eligibility.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ djournal.com) covers Ole Miss for the Journal. He blogs at NEMS360.com.