'We're 4-1': Shea Patterson maintains 'trust' in Michigan offense
Ann Arbor — As Michigan’s offense continues to be dissected and everyone searches for the “speed in space” that was promised, quarterback Shea Patterson came back to one thing.
Patterson is in his second full season as the Wolverines’ starter and preparing to play at Illinois on Saturday. He expressed confidence while speaking to reporters Tuesday night after practice, in first-year coordinator Josh Gattis and the new offense, and his ability to run the spread.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said after the Wolverines’ 10-3 victory over then-No. 14 Iowa last Saturday that the offense is “hitting their stride.” He reiterated that point on Monday and said he’s seeing that in practice and in games.
“Brand new system, first year,” Patterson said when asked about Harbaugh’s vote of confidence in the offense. “We believe in our coaches, we believe in each other and just taking it day by day. These first five weeks we’ve played three of the top-10 defenses, and we’re 4-1, so try to keep getting better.”
Later, when asked if he is content with his play, Patterson, who has completed 81-of-139 passes for 1,052 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions, shared again the only stat that matters to him.
“We’re 4 and 1,” he said.
And that the 16th-ranked Wolverines are. Their only blemish was a significant one, a 35-14 loss at Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener. But the offense hasn’t been a juggernaut, and that’s what has so many confused by Harbaugh’s statement and optimism. Patterson said the offense is showing improvement and continues to remind people of the record, because he sees that getting lost in the shuffle of criticism.
“Positivity is always lost these days,” Patterson said. “Obviously, we have high expectations and you guys do, too. All I can say is we’re trying our best and we’re working our ass off every single day and we’re going to continue to grow.”
But when? Michigan is ranked 10th in the Big Ten in total offense, averaging 367 yards per game, and 11th — 102nd nationally — in rushing. The Wolverines are averaging 28 points a game, ranking ninth in the conference, and eighth in passing, averaging 238.6 yards a game. Gattis’ speed-in-space concept is meant to get the ball in the play-makers’ hands. There have been moments, like Nico Collins’ 51-yard reception against Iowa, but the progress hasn’t always been evident.
Receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones missed the first two games with a high ankle sprain and was considered an important missing piece to the offense, and he is finally back and healthy. He is expected to make this offense click along with receivers Collins, Ronnie Bell and Tarik Black.
Michigan has had well-documented issues with turnovers, particularly the first three games, and in each, Michigan fumbled on the first drive. Patterson fumbled the first play of the season and injured his oblique muscle, which seemed to limit him the first two games. He said Tuesday night he is now fully healthy.
Gattis and Harbaugh in the first quarter of the season said they were seeing a disconnect from practice to games. They could see everything working but it wasn’t always translating on game day. Patterson said they’re starting to click now.
“In practice we’re all locked in and engaged with the game plan. We trust it,” he said. “Even in the games, we’ve been through a lot through the first games of the season — went to overtime, went on the road, played in some tight games — and I think we’re battle-tested at this point. We’re just going to go out there and play and try and control what we can control. I think (practice) is translating over to games. There’s a lot that you guys don’t see. There’s a lot the fans don’t see. They make their adjustments on defense, we make our adjustments on offense.
“We’re not, not trying to be explosive, but I do believe there’s a lot left out there. And the sky is really the limit for this offense. It’s just a matter of time.”
But it’s getting to be crunch time in the season. After playing at Illinois, which has struggled defensively this season, the Wolverines travel to Penn State for a “whiteout” night game, then return home to face Notre Dame. The final three games after they play at Maryland are against Michigan State at home, Indiana on the road and Ohio State at Michigan Stadium.
This is Gattis’ first job as offensive coordinator and first time he’s called plays, and it’s not a stretch to suggest he’s had growing pains, as well. He moved from the press box to the field beginning with the Rutgers game and the offensive players said they prefer him on the field. He’s also the fourth coordinator Patterson has worked with in college since his first season at Ole Miss. That could be daunting, but Patterson has enjoyed the process.
“I loved every second of it,” Patterson said. “It’s made me who I am today as a quarterback. It’s the fourth OC, but every spring so far in college has brought a new challenge to myself and to my teammates. We’re running a totally different offense from last year, and I think we’ve done a good job of grasping it. We’re going to continue to progress.
“Any time (you’re in the) first year in a new offense, especially the spread, it’s going to take a few games to really, really get it going. We all trust in it. We’re all trusting the process, and I think eventually we’re going to take off.”