Shea Patterson's lifetime of Michigan dreams comes to a head on Saturday

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — As time ticked off the clock late in the Michigan-Ohio State game last year in Ohio Stadium, a victory well out of reach for the Wolverines, quarterback Shea Patterson, who grew up in Toledo dreaming of playing in the winged helmet, stood on the sideline alongside receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and thought about the next time the teams would play.

That next time is now just days away, Saturday at noon at Michigan Stadium, the 116th edition of The Game.

Shea Patterson is playing his best football of the season. He threw for 750 yards and nine touchdowns the last two games and earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors the last two weeks.

Ohio State is unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings, and Michigan is 9-2 and ranked No. 13 in that poll. The Buckeyes, who have won seven straight against their arch-rivals and 14 of the last 15, have clinched the Big Ten East division title. Michigan is playing for a 10th victory but more importantly, the Wolverines’ focus is a win against their rivals.

The Wolverines are still smarting from that 62-39 loss at Ohio State last year.

“I remember on the sideline when things got out of hand a little bit in the fourth quarter … remembering that we’re going to get another shot at them,” Patterson said after practice Tuesday. “In a different place.”

Patterson is unbeaten at Michigan Stadium through two seasons. He considered leaving Michigan after one season but last December told The Detroit News, “there’s no way in hell I’m leaving this place on that note.”

He wanted another shot at the Buckeyes.

“It was a huge part of it,” Patterson said Tuesday referring to his decision to return. “I love playing for this team. I love playing for these coaches, and I love my teammates and this university. Not only myself, there’s countless seniors in this class that have waited a whole 365 to play in this game.

“We’ll be ready for it.”

Patterson is playing his best football of the season. He threw for 750 yards and nine touchdowns the last two games and earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors the last two weeks. He was selected the Maxwell Award Player of the Week on Tuesday after throwing for 366 yards and five touchdowns in the Wolverines’ 39-14 victory at Indiana last Saturday.

He is the first Michigan quarterback to throw five touchdowns in regulation. Two weeks ago against Michigan State, Patterson threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns. He is the first Michigan quarterback to throw for four touchdowns in consecutive games.

Heading into the regular-season finale against Ohio State, Patterson is third in the Big Ten (behind Tanner Morgan from Minnesota and Iowa’s Nate Stanley), with 2,523 yards. He has 21 touchdowns and five interceptions and averages 229.4 passing yards per game. Patterson is sixth in pass efficiency, and OSU quarterback Justin Fields is first.

“I do see him being more confident,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said of Patterson during a news conference Tuesday. “I see a group that feels like they've found an identity. They got really good receivers, by the way. Those receivers are talented. Offensive line is giving them time.

“I don't know exactly what made them all click, but it seems like it's going well right now for them.”

The lack of turnovers has been a big reason for the recent success of Michigan’s offense directed by Patterson. That has given first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis a chance to call plays and develop a rhythm, and that has allowed Patterson a different level of comfort.

Nico Collins, who caught three touchdown passes from Patterson at Indiana, said there’s something far simpler at work, something he detected, as many have, in the second half of the loss at Penn State. That’s when things seemed to turn for Michigan’s offense, as it found a groove and nearly pulled off the comeback from a 21-point deficit.

But he also sees a more relaxed Patterson.

“Shea’s just having fun,” Collins said Monday. “He playing looser. We got his back, and we’re going to be there for him. You can tell we’re all out there having fun. Once he's having fun, he’s kinda unstoppable.”

Although some said Gattis’ spread offense was a perfect fit for Patterson, who ran something similar his first two seasons at Ole Miss — he transferred to Michigan in December 2017 and has played for four offensive coordinators during his career — it wasn’t exactly the same. There were, what Patterson called Tuesday night, “growing pains.”

Tight end Sean McKeon said he has seen Patterson put in the off-field work. He has been disciplined and diligent trying to find whatever extra edge is available.

“He’s done a tremendous job in the film room studying coverages,” McKeon said on the Inside Michigan Football radio show Monday night. “A lot of his reads are dictated on the coverage. He’s done a great job recognizing that, knowing who to read in the RPO game. He’s really mastered the playbook at this point and he’s making all the right reads and making some good throws out there. He’s doing a great job.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh played quarterback for the Wolverines before a lengthy NFL career. He knows the position better than most and loves what he has seen from Patterson, especially the confidence with which he’s playing as Michigan prepares for its biggest rival.

“He's going into these games very confident about his reads, very confident about his job, being able to see coverages, anticipate defenses, playing with great timing, poise, accuracy,” Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh on his radio show Monday night raved about Patterson’s growth as a leader and shared a new nickname for his quarterback.

“You can tell the way the guys on the team respect him and react to him,” Harbaugh said. “They say it — ‘We’re riding Shea Patterson.’ They call him Sugar Shea Patterson. You know when guys like another guy on the team. They watch him work, but when they give him a nickname, Sugar Shea, that’s pretty cool. They like and respect him a whole heck of a lot.”

Patterson offered an embarrassed laugh when told what Harbaugh had said about his nickname.

“I’ll take it,” he said, with a laugh.

When he was growing up in Toledo, he was one of those kids who wore maize and blue when most of his friends were wearing scarlet and grey. He attended games at Michigan Stadium with his father, Sean. When Shea was a little boy, Sean would tell him stories to help him get to sleep, stories of Shea’s prowess as a kid quarterback who would emerge from the Michigan Stadium crowd to save the day for the Wolverines. Shea-man, as Sean called his son, was always the game’s hero.

He has that chance on Saturday in real life.

“It’s a dream come true,” Patterson said. “There’s no better way to go out than with a great team in Ohio State coming in. They’re the No. 1 team in the country, and it’s going to be an incredible challenge and one we’re looking forward to.”

Patterson hasn’t realized every goal with his team these last two years, but a win against the Buckeyes would be a real-life story he could tell his kids.

“I wouldn’t change a thing up to this point,” Patterson said of his time at Michigan. “Us as a team, we’ve been through so much the past two years, this season, how we’ve been battle tested, we lost, double overtime. We’ve been through some stuff this year.

“I can’t sit here and tell you how it’s going to play out on Saturday, but I can tell you we’re going to give everything we’ve got.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau