Bob Wojnowski and Angelique Chengelis discuss the Michigan-WMU game Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Consider the opponent, of course. Consider the circumstances, certainly.
Michigan was an angry, determined team and Western Michigan was a bewildered, defenseless bunch. Drawing any deeper conclusions from the Wolverines’ 49-3 stomping Saturday isn’t wise.
So let’s try this instead — just consider the throws, the type we haven’t seen around here in a while. Shea Patterson didn’t even have to throw that often, with Karan Higdon popping loose for 156 yards rushing. It’s amazing how much better an offensive line can look when facing an under-sized MAC team instead of Notre Dame.
Consider that a Michigan receiver caught a touchdown pass for the first time in almost exactly a year, when Patterson lofted a 44-yard strike to Nico Collins. He threw two more touchdown passes and finished a modest 12-for-17 for 125 yards. No one is going bonkers over Patterson after two games, nor should they. But you see why he’s here, and why Jim Harbaugh had to have him.
Consider one pass in particular, a slick 5-yard touchdown to Donovan Peoples-Jones to make it 42-0. Patterson dropped back, checked out of his first option, coolly adjusted and zipped the ball back across the field to Peoples-Jones in the left corner of the end zone. In that play was everything the Wolverines need — and are hoping they keep seeing — out of their transfer quarterback.
On the money
“I thought Shea played really well again, made some big-time plays, a couple throws out of the pocket, on the dead run,” Harbaugh said. “He was really accurate again, playing cool, making the tight-window throws, second week in a row. I thought he was more in control, more in charge, and we look to expand that next week.”
These were Broncos, not Fighting Irish players, I’ll reiterate for the 39th time. But on that 5-yard touchdown, the defense was trying to confuse him and the coverage was tight. Even in the sloppy loss at Notre Dame, Patterson showed accuracy and touch. In this game, he got a chance, thanks to much-improved protection, to show swag and savvy.
Harbaugh saw it the first time he met Patterson, the first time he watched him practice. He saw it again as Patterson ran out of the Michigan Stadium tunnel Saturday for the first time and leapt to slap the banner, something the 21-year-old junior had long dreamed of doing.
UM quarterback Shea Patterson on his emotions running out of the Michigan Stadium tunnel the first time Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
“I was running behind him coming out of the tunnel because I kind of wanted to see what he was gonna do,” Harbaugh said. “It looked like he went up and did a little reverse, had a little sugar on the flakes, touching the banner. That’s neat. I wanted to see that. It’s awesome when it means something to somebody.”
That scene — if not necessarily this game — probably meant more to Patterson than we realized. We saw his competitiveness against Notre Dame, when he kept cramping, kept getting hit, and kept getting back up.
But this was the place he used to tell his dad, Sean, he dreamed of playing. The family lived in Toledo for a while and attended Michigan games, and Patterson pointed out to Harbaugh when he first stepped on the Michigan Stadium turf where his seats used to be.
“It really didn’t hit me until I was on the bus driving over here,” Patterson said. “I remember being at tailgates and talking to my dad and just being around that. And then when I ran out of the tunnel with all my teammates, I can’t describe that feeling. It was kind of emotional but excited as well.”
It was a rare burst of emotion for Patterson, whose frenetic playing style belies his poised, understated demeanor. He speaks softly but deliberately, and happily credits others. He and his teammates took the 24-17 loss to Notre Dame especially hard, and he was mad at himself for committing two turnovers. Given a chance then to talk about Notre Dame’s constant pressure on Michigan’s offensive line, Patterson defended his blockers, and had plenty to defend on this day.
Karan Higdon and Shea Patterson praise the Wolverines offensive line Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
“Our O-line played a heck of a game, I don’t think I’ve ever seen holes open up that wide,” Patterson said. “It was the way we ran the ball that opened up so much in our passing game. Got the safeties to come down and play in the box.”
The only way Michigan’s running game is going to work is if its passing game works. And in a September contest that felt like a spring game, the Wolverines checked all the boxes and got everyone involved.
After Higdon rushed for 140 yards in the first quarter, Chris Evans finally got carries and finished with 86 yards. Michigan needs that one-two punch at running back, and it needs its receivers to get open deep.
If we’ve learned anything after two games, it’s that Patterson can survey the field and squeeze the ball into a lot of places. His first seven completions Saturday went to seven different players, including Oliver Martin and Ambry Thomas.
“(Patterson) is like a chameleon, he can adapt to whatever environment it is,” Evans said. “Depending on the protection, he’s going to change his color, you know what I’m saying? He’s going to do it and make everything smooth. I feel he’s been there before, because I know he’s been there before. That brings a lot of confidence to everybody else. If he’s calling a play (In the huddle) and it’s one of his favorite plays, he’s saying it faster and more confident because we’re about to score on this play. I love that.”
Been there, done that
Patterson has been here before, sort of. He played 10 games at Mississippi before transferring, and flashed his risk-reward dynamics there. On Saturday, Michigan defensive players said they caught themselves watching the stadium videoboard when Patterson was in action.
And yes, they’re aware this outcome doesn’t mean much. Western Michigan allowed 334 yards rushing against Syracuse last week, but also rolled up 621 yards of offense. So maybe Michigan’s defense deserves more credit (the Broncos finished with 208), but this looked more like a bounce-back effort for the offense. It gained important confidence, as long as it’s not false confidence.
“There’s a lot of questions about our offense, and we’ve got to take this game with a grain of salt,” Higdon said. “It’s a great kickstart for us. Shea stayed poised, and whenever the opportunity came to throw the ball, he made the plays happen, he made the throws.”
Sounds simple enough. Make the throws, all kinds of throws in all kinds of situations, something Michigan has struggled to do the past couple seasons. In two games, Patterson is 32-for-47 with a lot of safe, short passes. Eventually, against stiffer competition, he’ll be asked to do more, and certainly looks capable of it.