Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo, Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau talk about the Jim Harbaugh and Mark Dantonio tweets, about MSU feeling snubbed with its bowl choice, and about the teams Michigan and Michigan State will face. Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh has no problem admitting Michigan isn’t good enough right now. That’s the first step, and it logically leads to the next step — doing something about it.
Since Michigan’s 8-4 regular season ended, Harbaugh has cranked up the pursuing and the posturing, and if it hints at desperation, well, what did people expect? That he’d sit idly and hope he has a quarterback?
Michigan appears to be the leader to land dynamic Mississippi sophomore Shea Patterson, who was in attendance at the Michigan-UCLA basketball game in Ann Arbor Saturday, along with two Ole Miss teammates. You can gripe about how it looks, trying to grab a prime player from another program, but if you do, don’t gripe about Michigan’s inability to beat the best. To compete at that level, this is how it works — you can’t ever stop courting top-tier talent.
I’d suggest it’s not only imperative for Harbaugh to pursue Patterson — and any elite players interested in Michigan — but he’d also be irresponsible if he didn’t try to get another quarterback. With Wilton Speight and Alex Malzone planning to transfer, Michigan has one returnee, sophomore Brandon Peters, who has ever taken a college snap.
In fact, outside of a fine 2015 season by transfer Jake Rudock, the Wolverines have lacked consistent, stellar quarterback play. That’s one of the reasons Harbaugh, for all his acclaim, hasn’t regularly beaten his two major rivals, nor won a Big Ten title.
The Wolverines had the defense to compete the past three seasons, but Speight was injured late in 2016, then struggled before getting hurt this season. John O’Korn, another transfer, struggled mightily, and then Peters showed promise before suffering a concussion and missing the Ohio State game.
Now, the focus and pressure are squarely on Harbaugh, one of the highest-paid coaches in college football partly because of his reputation as a molder of quarterbacks. That’s been the lingering disappointment of his 28-10 tenure so far. Not a failure, but a disappointment. There have been some miscalculations and some injuries. It’s a concern he hasn’t developed more quarterbacks, but it would be a bigger concern if he didn’t keep trying to upgrade.
It might seem unseemly to some, and as a general practice, it’s not ideal to rely on transfers. The steadiest high-level programs develop players from within, and Peters and freshman Dylan McCaffrey, both touted recruits, could still be those guys for Michigan. Peters showed composure in four games — zero interceptions — and can’t be overlooked.
But the 6-foot-2 Patterson is a unique talent, the No. 1 high school quarterback when he arrived at Mississippi in 2016. He showed rare playmaking ability in seven games this season before suffering a knee injury. He completed 64 percent of his passes and is a high-risk, high-reward type, throwing 17 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.
Is Patterson certain to come to Michigan? There’s never a certainty until it’s done, but there’s no indication he’s considering anywhere else. He has ties to the Michigan program — offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz was Patterson’s center at IMG Academy in Florida — and lived in the Toledo area when he was younger.
There’s also no certainty Patterson would be immediately eligible, as the NCAA would have to grant a waiver because he’s not a graduate transfer. He’s one of several Mississippi players reportedly seeking that route because the Rebels were hit with major NCAA sanctions that led to Hugh Freeze’s firing. Safety Deontay Anderson, who’s pursuing legal means to be immediately eligible, and receiver Van Jefferson also reportedly will be in Ann Arbor this weekend.
Michigan is in position to benefit, and needs to utilize every avenue — within the rules, obviously — to ratchet its battle against Ohio State and Michigan State. Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio are a combined 5-1 against Harbaugh, in case you haven’t heard.
Make no mistake, Patterson could have an instant impact on a team already returning upwards of 18 starters. He’s not a prototypical drop-back quarterback, but not necessarily a dual-threat runner, either. He can be elusive, and Harbaugh has to recognize the need for mobility in today’s game.
Feeling the heat
Harbaugh has pushed boundaries before with innovative satellite camps, and I’m guessing he’s found the job tougher than expected. Meyer isn’t going away anytime soon, and Dantonio’s departure from power status was a one-year aberration. Entering his fourth season, Harbaugh is aware of the daunting task, and while his Twitter “spat” with Dantonio this week was mostly harmless and amusing, it gradually grew from subtle to telling.
After the Spartans were bumped from a Florida bowl, while Michigan landed in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day, Dantonio was asked about it and said, in part, “I’ll just continue to concentrate on beating Michigan.” Harbaugh responded with a jab that read, “Congrats on turning around a 3-9 team, plagued with off field issues.”
Ouch. Dantonio followed with a reprisal of his famous line — “it’s not over, it’ll never be over, it’s just getting started.” Then the other day, questioned by a Tampa reporter, Harbaugh retorted, “I’d just prefer he didn’t talk about us.”
Are those exchanges an indication Harbaugh and Dantonio were simply irritated, or something deeper, that perhaps Harbaugh is feeling the heat? I don’t know if he feels it, but he definitely hears it. And after leaving Michigan State untouched on social media for three years, he’s ramping it up. Why now, after another loss to Michigan State in an 8-4 season?
Maybe he feels better about his team going forward. The Spartans feel the same way about their young team, led by talented Brian Lewerke. That’s been a significant difference between the programs over the last decade, as the Spartans have cranked out NFL quarterbacks from Brian Hoyer to Kirk Cousins to Connor Cook, while the Wolverines have scrambled to plug players into shifting offenses.
Harbaugh has coached game-altering quarterbacks before in Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick. He knows what they look like and how much they can mean. If Patterson indeed is one of those guys, of course Harbaugh should do everything reasonably possible to get him.