Why Harbaugh, Teammates Appreciate Shea Patterson's Special Level of Play

Why Harbaugh, Teammates Appreciate Shea Patterson's Special Level of Play

Football

Why Harbaugh, Teammates Appreciate Shea Patterson's Special Level of Play

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — He may have only thrown for 125 yards in Week Two of the 2018 season — the second-lowest in-game total in his career — but Shea Patterson showed why he was so coveted in his first home game at Michigan Stadium on Saturday.

A week removed from completing 67% of his passes for 227 yards against Notre Dame — the second-best Michigan passing performance in a calendar year — Patterson upped the ante in the Wolverines’ romp over Western, completing 71% of his passes and throwing three touchdowns — with no turnovers on his end.

On top of all the numbers, Patterson made throws with touch, made good — if not great — reads, and hit the open man time and time again. His offense was effusive in his praise after the game, sharing why having Patterson under center is something special.

“He stayed poised,” senior running back and team captain Karan Higdon said. “He stayed tall in the pocket. Whenever the opportunity came to throw the ball, he made those plays happen. He made the throws and our receivers made the catches. He kept our guys going in the huddle, and that’s something I love about him.”

Sitting three feet away from Higdon, Patterson just grabbed his shoulder and demurred: “Couldn’t have done it without this guy!”

He credits his stellar play in the game to the job his tailbacks and offensive line had done throughout Saturday’s performance.

“Our O-line played a heckuva game,” Patterson said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen holes open up that wide. Just the way (Karan Higdon) ran the ball opened up so much in our passing game. Got the safeties to come down and play in the box, expect run, and I’d hit ’em over the top.

“What he did today and Chris Evans just really opened up the passing game for us.”

Patterson brings a different element to the Michigan offense that has been sorely missing in many ways. He can keep plays alive with his legs, and we’ve already seen his spectacular accuracy on display in two short games.

But the offense’s success — or failure — isn’t solely on the quarterback.

Wilton Speight went 11-3 as a starter for Michigan (and the Wolverines won the last game he started, when he was injured at Purdue), but gets very little appreciation from the fanbase. Jake Rudock, before him, went 10-3, and ended Jim Harbaugh’s first season on a high note, absolutely crushing Florida in its backyard, 41-7 at the Citrus Bowl.

But, when Speight went down in 2017, the Wolverines floundered offensively — and they weren’t exactly humming on offense in the three games before that. John O’Korn had one stellar game, but failed to rekindle the magic of the win over the Boilermakers, when he threw for 270 yards. He surrendered the starting job to Brandon Peters, who played solid football, but wasn’t asked to do much. He was lost with injury at Wisconsin and didn’t look like the same player in the loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

It’s not just the man under center that’s been the difference for Michigan on offense. It’s struggled to move the ball on the ground against top defenses, averaging less than 3 yards-per-carry in each of the past 6 losses, and has significant issues in pass protection — which have continued to plague the unit.

However, with Patterson under center, there’s newfound hope, especially for a defense that’s carried the load since Speight’s initial injury, at Iowa late in 2016.

Michigan has been in every game it’s played but one going back to that Citrus Bowl win, and in large part, that’s been because of the elite defense on the other side of the ball. Senior defensive end Chase Winovich has been an integral cog in that attack, consistently and persistently getting pressure on the opposing teams’ quarterback, no matter the level of talent lined up across the line of scrimmage.

Now, he has a chance to enjoy a little breathing room, as the defense doesn’t feel like it needs to carry the weight of the entire team, as it had a year ago.

“It’s tough to comment, because we’ve had Jake Rudock here, and there’s problems that are beyond the scope of quarterback,” Winovich said. “But in terms of how our offense efficiently played and how Shea looked, I’d say it’s as good as any quarterback I’ve seen here personally.

“It’s just weird being on the sideline and have them just scoring touchdowns here. I remember Josh Metellus – I still don’t know how to say his name! – I just remember him sitting here and being like, ‘Man, this is nice!’ I think the feeling is mutual from my half.”

There was one play where Patterson’s elite skill level was on display in particular, Harbaugh notes. After the game, he pointed to the touchdown pass to second-year receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, which wasn’t Patterson’s first read.

In a rare instance where Harbaugh broke down the schematics of a play, he shared what it was that Patterson did on that play and what he does overall that makes him so special.

“I think he’s got really good vision of the field,” Harbaugh said. “That’s something I’m asking him all the time. ‘How are you seeing things? What are you seeing?’ It was really good.

‘The throw to Donovan probably stands out in my mind as the one that really puts an exclamation point on it because it looked like a zero blitz – all-out blitz, man coverage, free safety. To start the play, we thought we had the right play called. We’re bringing Nico in from outside receiver position, from the boundary. Thought that was going to be where the ball would go. And, as the play developed, I saw the linebacker drop off into that space. For him to calculate that and then change the channel – if I was playing quarterback, that’s where I would be going with the ball. Reading the initial coverage – to change the channel and to go to the corner, to throw it to Donovan, making that split-second decision, and make that accurate of a throw, you’re really seeing things well.”

Should Patterson continue to move the ball for the offense, that pressure taken off the defense adds a different element to what that side of the ball can do, Winovich says.

It wouldn’t just be a matter of dialing up what the defense is accustomed — it allows for Don Brown’s unit to be that much more aggressive, because there — theoretically — would be an ability to make up for any potential misses should the aggression be a little too much.

“It just lets us go do our job,” Winovich said. “Across the board – the coaches are calling plays they think will work, not being afraid of giving up a touchdown which could end – basically lose us this game. And defensive players, the same thing. We’re going out there, we’re just having fun. We’re just playing football. We’re not worried about, ‘What if I do this? What if I mess up? It kind of takes that weight and tosses it to the side, that you might have.”

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