Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo, and Angelique S. Chengelis preview the Michigan-Ohio State game from Schembechler Hall. The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — When Shea Patterson finally was granted immediate eligibility to play this fall for Michigan, the talk began. Most notably, he was called the “Sheavior,” the guy who could and would take the Wolverines to the Promised Land.
And here the Wolverines sit. They're No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings. They've won 10 straight since losing the season opener at Notre Dame by a touchdown and they're unbeaten in the Big Ten with a share of the East Division title.
They have had goals. Lots of goals. Namely, a Big Ten title, which would be the first at Michigan since 2004, and a national championship. Heady goals for a team that went 8-5 last season, Jim Harbaugh’s third as head coach.
Enter Patterson, who transferred from Ole Miss last December and was declared immediately eligible in late April after a difficult process with the NCAA. Patterson has been the difference this season for the Wolverines, who have so much on the line Saturday when they face No. 10 Ohio State at Ohio Stadium.
“That team has been playoff ready everywhere but the quarterback spot since basically the middle of Harbaugh’s first year,” Joel Klatt, Fox lead college football analyst, said. “Knowing his ability and knowing that I sure thought he would get acclimated, what you’re seeing now is the full picture.
“He’s the biggest difference, and he’s the only difference from what we’ve seen in previous seasons.”
Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson talks about there being more at stake in this season's rivalry game. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Patterson has been cool and confident, fiery and dogged as Michigan's leader this season. He has completed nearly 66 percent of his passes for 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
Consider that last season, Michigan had nine passing touchdowns, including only three to receivers. Patterson has connected with five receivers this season and has spread the ball around to the tight ends — Zach Gentry is second on the team with 475 yards, two yards behind leading receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones — running backs and fullbacks.
Big-time quarterbacks love big-time stages, and that’s what Patterson and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins will share on Saturday. Patterson wants to be on this stage, in arguably the greatest college football rivalry, with so much on the line.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh talks about his quarterback's talent and feel for the game. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
“This right here is why we play the game, for moments like this, opportunities like this,” Patterson said Tuesday night. “I’m just so happy I get to do it with this group of guys and for this university. I wouldn’t rather have it any other way.”
When he speaks to reporters, he is reserved and quiet. Then you hear Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown share a story of a different version of Patterson, the one who gets in Brown’s face and tells him to get him the ball back so he can make right on the previous play, a fumble. His teammates tell of a quarterback who rallies and leads, who will pop his head into a defensive huddle or the special teams group to fire them up.
When Michigan trailed by 17 points at Northwestern, it was Patterson who got in his teammates’ faces, both on offense and defense, and told them they would win the game.
“Shea’s so special,” defensive tackle Carlo Kemp said this week. “He’s a competitor. We saw that really come out of him in that Northwestern game. He took it on as an offensive guy that was like, ‘We’re not doing this. We’re gonna come out here and we’re gonna win.’
“You could see, he just played so hard and rallied the whole offense. By rallying the offense, he rallied the defense. We were like, 'Let’s go out there and let’s get him the stop and let’s get him the ball.' He had the hot hand and he’s had the hot hand ever since.”
Harbaugh was a quarterback at Michigan and then the NFL. He can’t praise Patterson enough and knows how much he has meant to a team on the precipice of fulfilling all the goals they established in preseason camp.
Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson said Saturday's rivalry game at Ohio State "is why we play the game, for moments like this." Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
“He’s been tremendous in all ways,” Harbaugh said. “He gets it done. Whatever you ask him to do, he executes it and does it at a really high level, whether it’s quarterback ball-handling, the play-calling, throwing from the pocket, the play-action fakes are crisp and the throws are accurate. The out-of-the pocket throws are really good, sensational even.
“He’s got the ability. He’s got that win-it factor I believe some athletes and competitors have more than others. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s just a terrific ball player and a great teammate, too. He’s that kind of guy that’s always intense and focused at practice and doesn’t always make it about him. He does a great job of being a guy that’s really respected, because he respects his teammates, respects the game and everybody has confidence in him. We’re lucky, lucky, lucky to have him.”
Michigan is lucky to have Patterson in large part because of the work of his lawyer, Tom Mars, who spent nearly five months behind the scenes on the transfer appeal. Mars and Patterson finally met in person after the Wisconsin game. Mars has been impressed by Patterson since the start and described him as “completely authentic.”
“Quite honestly, he’s got what a lot of people would call the X-factor,” Mars said. “There’s something special about Shea that I’ve not seen in very many people and I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of impressive people in all walks of life, including people like Peyton Manning and have spent more time with Tim Tebow.
“If there’s any such thing as a natural leader, Shea is definitely a natural leader.”
Patterson's teammates have experienced his leadership. They value it. They are impressed by it. But he’s also a playmaker, a guy who gives the Wolverines a different element on offense.
“Shea brings a whole new aspect to the offense being able to run and extend plays the way he does,” left guard and co-captain Ben Bredeson said. “To be able to run the football well on some of those read plays, it’s a whole new thing for defenses to have to cover and from an O-line standpoint, pass-blocking with him, he’s able to extend his plays. Sometimes he runs out and there’s not much you can do about your guy.
“He extends plays with his feet and when he’s out of the pocket he’s as deadly as he’s shown. Sometimes he can make a guy miss. We saw at Rutgers, he made one or two guys miss, rolled out, found Oliver (Martin) in the corner of the end zone. He’s able to do those things we see all the time in practice. Seeing him do those in a game now, it’s very promising. I just love the way he plays. He’s a very driven kid.”
Michigan offensive lineman Ben Bredeson talks about quarterback Shea Patterson's improvisation skills when a play breaks down. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Patterson had Bredeson at hello.
“I loved it from the first time I saw him in spring ball and ever since then it’s gotten better every single day,” Bredeson said of Patterson’s playmaking ability. “We’re continuing to block for him, and he’s doing a great job for us.”
Teams mirror their coaches, but the quarterback can also have a similar impact. Michigan has the nation’s top-ranked defense and, like Klatt said, a quarterback who can make the offense run smoothly. Patterson has helped the Wolverines gain confidence, understanding that there is a fine line between confidence and over-confidence.
“I think it just comes with the way we prepare,” Patterson said. “If you prepare and you put in the work and you go out there and you’re not afraid to fail, why not be confident? False confidence comes when you don’t prepare right. I think that’s when you get nervous. I don’t think we have any of that in this locker room this year.”
Patterson has never been to Ohio Stadium, but he knows it’s “really loud” and the Buckeyes have a rabid fan base. He’s not nervous, only excited.
“Everybody knows how big of a game it is, how much of a rivalry it is to us and them,” Patterson said. “There’s a lot more at stake. There’s a Big Ten title and a national playoff spot. I’m not too sure both of us have that opportunity often, so there’s a lot more at stake than just the rivalry.”
Michigan at Ohio State
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Ohio Stadium, Columbus
Records: Michigan 10-1, 8-0 Big Ten; Ohio State 10-1, 7-1
Line: Michigan by 4