'No handcuffs': Harbaugh never frets about Patterson's decision-making

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
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Jim Harbaugh and Shea Patterson

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has never doubted quarterback Shea Patterson’s ability and has given him his full trust.

Patterson, in his first season with the Wolverines after transferring from Ole Miss, has completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,927 yards and has 17 touchdowns to three interceptions. The fourth-ranked Wolverines lead the Big Ten East Division and face Indiana on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

Harbaugh, appearing Wednesday morning on the “Jamie and Stoney” show on 97.1 The Ticket, was asked if he has been happy with Patterson’s decision-making and if he ever has moments where he’s wondering what Patterson is doing and then suddenly the play works out.

More: Patterson's Big House adieu? Michigan QB won't go there

“I found myself saying that early the (Rutgers) game when he was rolling out to his right and he hit Donovan (Peoples-Jones) for a first down,” Harbaugh told the show. “It was a third-down play. It was a tight window on the sideline and he’s on a full-speed run and looked like a shortstop making a throw. I knew that was going to be tight and he put it in the tightest window you can put it in. That was taking a chance.

“Another time he rolled to his left and, hips back, threw it across his body back into the field and Donovan was wide open, and another one he was buying time and throws it to Oliver Martin. That was a scary deal. It had to be thrown in the exact perfect spot. I have a lot of trust in him. I’m not going, ‘Oh my God, what’s he doing out there?’ Ever. I don’t ever have that feeling. Everybody trusts him. He’s playing the game. There’s no handcuffs on him.”

Harbaugh said he appreciates how consistent the Wolverines’ pass game has been this year under Patterson’s guidance, but also credited all the other moving parts that have made the offense productive.

“I really feel like the passing game has been good, really good, the entire year, really consistently good,” Harbaugh said. “Exhibit A, the receivers are catching the ball. There’s been maybe three or four drops the entire season and that’s the tight ends, that’s the receivers, that’s the backs -- all combined are catching the football. The quarterback is throwing the ball extremely accurate, Exhibit B, all season. I think he’s gone over 120 straight passes without an interception. He’s only thrown three interceptions on the year and 17 touchdown passes. Completing high 60s in his completion percentage.

“And the protection this week was really good. Shea does what you ask him to do and does it really well. Some weeks, it’s more with his legs and running the ball and picking up first downs, but every week he’s contributed throwing the football, throwing it accurately. We’ve gotten big plays and third-down conversions. It’s been consistently good.”

Harbaugh balked when asked if Patterson is taking enough chances in the passing game.

“He’s pushing it downfield,” Harbaugh said. “The plays he made out of the pocket this entire year and accurate from there ... he’s completing darn near 70 percent of his passes. What do you want him to do?”

Other highlights from Harbaugh’s appearance on the “Jamie and Stoney” show:

While others are talking about the Ohio State game and beyond, how does the team stay focused? “Our guys have really been a focused group the entire season and they work hard at practice. They’re told by the coaches: Keep what’s important now. There’s other factors, too. One, we’ve been watching Indiana throughout the season. As we play other teams and get ready for other teams you see the Indiana team play, and they’re good, really good. They score a lot of points. They’re really good on defense and we’ve had three competitive games with them, three for three the last three years, two overtimes and a 10-point game here in Ann Arbor. We know we’ve got a big challenge this week.”

On Indiana not having won in Ann Arbor since 1967: "They’re good, there’s no doubt about it. I think when you start throwing those, ‘Is the team thinking ahead?’ or the statistic of winning here -- you accuse coaches of coachspeak. I accuse the media of mediaspeak. Those things just aren’t relevant when preparing for a big game. That’s what this is -- big game.”

On unsung running back Karan Higdon’s performance this season: “So happy for him. That seven straight 100-yard games, I think he was the only back in the country to do that. He’s really run the ball well. He’s the kind of back, if it’s blocked for two yards, he’ll get you four. If it’s a block for no yards, he’ll get you two. He’s also been uncanny with breaking the big long ones, too. The 50 yards plus, he’s done that so many times in his career. For a back to have a 50-yard run is so uncommon. It just doesn’t happen very often. It hasn’t happened against our defense very often. Karan has had a real penchant for coming out of the pack, coming out of a group of bodies and breaking off a really long run. His pass protection is really improved, he’s catching the ball out of the backfield, he’s really improved his game. Physically, he had a great offseason. He’s one of those guys on the team, when I say our guys are focused and work tremendously hard, he’s a captain for a reason. He does all those things and sets a great example.”

On Saturday being the last game home game for the seniors: “I’m sure that’ll be a nostalgic moment. It always is. It doesn’t really hit until after the game’s over when you’re walking up that tunnel with the guys for the last time. I know that’s how I felt when I was a player. I hope and pray and working really hard right now to have them have the experience of a win. My experience was of a loss in my last home game at Michigan to Minnesota. We’re going toward the finish line, so to speak, and you don’t want to hit the snooze button. It’s time to be up and at it. Everybody doing everything they possibly can to put our team in position for success. Our coaches are doing that, our players are doing that. That’s our mindset.”

How much fun is the team having? More than the last couple years? “We had a day yesterday that was great, playing our funnest, our best practice with all the guys that don’t play in the games. We had our Monday practice and our Monday scrimmage and all those guys were so into it. Some had their best days. We’re just all gathered up there at the end, ‘Man, that was good guys, wasn’t it? That was fun.’ That felt fun as a coach. Whenever you’re with a team and it’s later in the season and everybody is still into it and really trying to hard to improve and making the decision to have good meetings and have good practices, yeah, that’s fun.”


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