How Patterson's 'Innate Ability' Makes Him a Game-Changer

How Patterson's 'Innate Ability' Makes Him a Game-Changer

Football

How Patterson's 'Innate Ability' Makes Him a Game-Changer

It’s an odd thing to say about Michigan’s 42-7 win over Rutgers on Saturday that it wasn’t flashy from an offensive standpoint.

That’s despite it being the Wolverines third-biggest offensive output on the season and without having had any defensive scores — as it had a week ago, fielding an identical score vs. Penn State.

It wasn’t even quarterback Shea Patterson’s most productive performance, as that came Week Six against Maryland, when he completed 70% of his passes for 282 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. But Saturday’s affair saw the third-year signal caller complete 67% of his passes for 253 yards and 3 touchdowns — with many of his throws requiring a pinpoint-level of accuracy.

Even a handful of his incompletions were placed perfectly, but in cold, windy weather conditions, the receivers couldn’t come down with them.

His head coach, Jim Harbaugh, was certainly pleased about his performance after the game, crediting Patterson’s accuracy, especially amidst the elements.

“Shea was really playing tonight,” Harbaugh said. “Just does everything you ask him to do. You ask him to throw the ball and he throws it. That was a really tough night to throw the ball, man. It reminded me of my days back at Soldier Field playing in that windy, some of those windy conditions. He made some throws that were just unbelievable, putting it in the right spot with the wind blowing, swirling.

“The throw he made to Oliver Martin on the run was great. Runs to the left, the third-down conversions.”

Harbaugh isn’t the only one who feels that way. Of course, his receivers and tight ends are the benefactors of his throws.

According to fourth-year quarterback-turned-tight end Zach Gentry, Patterson is excelling in large part due to a trust factor that he’s built with his pass catchers. Because both parties trust each other, whether it’s 1st and 10 or 3rd and long, they know they can work together to make a play.

Of course, Patterson’s accuracy certainly helps matters.

“A lot of is just comes down to trust,” Gentry said. “Shea has a lot of trust in us. If a team can convert third downs as successfully as we can, we would take that every week. A lot of things go into it but Shea just threw a really nice ball.”

On the other hand, this Saturday’s game didn’t require something the three previous did: Patterson utilizing his legs to break the game open. As a matter of fact, for the first time in his college career, Patterson did not attempt to run the ball from under center.

Harbaugh said that was by design this game, given how much he’d run in recent weeks. He had 11 carries against Penn State, 8 carries against Michigan State and 9 carries against Wisconsin. But, in this game, Harbaugh said they went with more of an RPO (run-pass option) look so that Patterson could have the option to roll out and throw more.

And in doing so, Harbaugh says it creates that much more of a matchup problem for opposing defenses.

“We weren’t really – he’s been running the ball quite a bit the last couple weeks,” Harbaugh said. “Put a couple different type of plays in where he could zone read and come out throwing the ball. It was a nice extra wrinkle for us. Get him moving out of the pocket instead of running the ball as much.

“It was a nice – a nice addition to the offense. That puts some pressure on a defense now, because you could be handing it off on a zone play inside. Quarterback could be pulling it, quarterback could be pulling it – and coming out and throwing it. So there’s a triple-option effect to that.”

The other component is Patterson’s ability to keep plays alive.

In the third quarter, up 14, Michigan faced a 2nd and long on the Rutgers 16. The play looked like it had broken down, as the Rutgers defense had Patterson dead to rights.

But he kept moving his feet, and, after what felt like an eternity, Patterson scrambled to his right and found an open Oliver Martin in the end zone for six.

This can be something of a taught trait, Harbaugh says, before relenting that what Patterson does cannot be taught.

No, what Patterson can do on plays like that — the escapability mixed with an Aaron Rodgers-type ability to keep his eyes downfield and make the big play — that’s a special kind of skillset.

“I think the biggest majority is the feel,” Harbaugh said. “Pocket awareness, where the quiet spot is. He looked as good as he’s ever looked tonight in the pocket. Not panicking, moving subtly to get to the quiet spot. There’s drills for sure, things that you coach. You do the same drills with some guys and they don’t ever get it, and you do those drills with guys that really have the special awareness, the feel and innate ability and you can get really good. So yeah, it’s a greater share to the innate – guys who really understand spatial awareness and where guys are on the field. He’s gifted – he’s really gifted in that area.”

But, if you were to ask Patterson, it’s not his ability to make plays. It’s not his arm or about being gifted. The quintessential teammate, Patterson demurs from all of that praise, putting it all on his offensive line.

And the offensive line did a fantastic job for the sixth-straight game, with Saturday’s game being perhaps the best game Michigan has had in pass protection in more than a decade.

Patterson says that’s what makes all the difference, and why he’s able to make those big time throws. Without the offensive line doing his job, he wouldn’t be able to do anything worthy of receiving all of the aforementioned accolades.

“It starts with the offensive line,” Patterson said. “They did a great job protecting. We were just taking what they gave us. We worked hard on the game plan all week. This team all cares about each other so much. We don’t get distracted by where we are now, we just approach each week with the same mindset. And then everything else will take care of itself.”

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