When Gregg Ellis and I changed beats for the 2002 football season I remember saying to someone that I was going to finally get to see elite quarterback play.
Mississippi State struggled for consistency at the position during my time on the beat, and Eli Manning was coming off a sophomore season in which he’d thrown 31 touchdowns with only nine interceptions.
However, that changed in Eli’s junior season, my first year on the beat.
His efficiency rating of 125.57 and completion percentage of 58.0 were lows for his Ole Miss career, his 15 interceptions a career high. He threw 21 touchdown passes and averaged 261.6 passing yards a game.
That was a team that struggled in the run game and put Eli in position at times of trying to do too much. Ole Miss started five different tailbacks in 2002.
Overall, the passing numbers weren’t bad but were less than expected for Eli Manning.
You know the rest of the story. Eli gave some thought to an early entry into the NFL but returned to Ole Miss for a dominant senior season, completing 62.4 percent of his passes for 3,600 yards, 29 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and an efficiency rating of 148.10.
I remember Les Miles, then the coach at Oklahoma State, commenting on the Manning-led drive in the fourth quarter of the Cotton Bowl that gave the Rebels a lead too large for the Cowboys to overcome. He kept remaking on the efficiency of the drive.
I thought that in a nutshell summed up Eli’s time at Ole Miss … good numbers, strong numbers but more than anything else, efficient.
Ole Miss has been inconsistent at the position since Eli’s departure. Jevan Snead had some really good games in 2008 and 2009 but was continually plagued by the INT bug.
The belief is that Hugh Freeze will sign and develop a high school quarterback as a multi-year starter, something that hasn’t been done since Eli. The two commits are a good start in that direction.