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Niyo: Michigan's Shea Patterson sees opportunity in pressure-packed job

John Niyo
The Detroit News
Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson speaks to reporters Thursday at Schembechler Hall.

Ann Arbor — There’s no pressure in this pocket. At least not the kind that’ll force Shea Patterson to tuck and run.

Surrounded by a crush of 30 reporters inside Schembechler Hall, Patterson spent more than 20 minutes answering questions Thursday, just days after being officially named Michigan’s starting quarterback.

But as Patterson stood there talking about all the hype and hopes pinned to his arrival as both a high-profile transfer from Mississippi and a former five-star recruit, he certainly looked comfortable. And as he heard again — and again — about the expectations being heaped on his shoulders taking the reins of Jim Harbaugh’s team, Patterson sure sounded like the right guy for the job.

More: 'He has a presence': Shea Patterson's confidence is contagious at Michigan

Time will tell, of course. But where everybody else sees pressure, Patterson sees a chance to make something happen. Where others have failed, he senses an opportunity. One that the guy who held this job a year ago, Wilton Speight, tried to put in perspective before he packed up his things last spring and transferred to UCLA for his final year of eligibility.

“He did say to me one time that being quarterback at Michigan is the biggest thing you’re ever gonna be a part of,” Patterson said. “And I understand that. I understand how big of an opportunity this is. …

“But I’m just gonna go out there and attack it, because I know there’s not gonna be another shot. You only get this time once in your life.”

A long wait

After months in limbo, waiting for the NCAA to rule on his eligibility waiver request, that time is finally near, with UM set to kick off the regular season Sept. 1 at Notre Dame.

And it’s probably no accident that Harbaugh didn’t bother waiting until then to make official what everyone had anticipated, that Patterson will be the one leading the Wolverines onto the field in South Bend. The choice was clear, and the new guy — to his credit — didn’t leave much room for doubt.

“I just always had that mindset that I was coming in here to work,” he said. “And being the starter? You expect nothing less.”

As for those expectations, well, that’s a big part of why Patterson is here.

Michigan hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 2004. Harbaugh is 1-5 against Ohio State and Michigan State, and a win in this rivalry renewal with Notre Dame would be the Wovlerines’ first road win over a ranked team since 2006. Four years after Harbaugh returned to his alma mater, the fans aren’t the only ones growing restless.

“We’re all men here,” Patterson said. “We understand what lies ahead of us and what needs to be done. The work ethic has to be through the roof. And as an offense, we understand how good our defense is.”

It looks like a championship-caliber defense, on paper and in practice, just about everyone agrees. Including Patterson, who knows what it feels like to be under siege in the backfield. (Just pop in the tape from that 66-3 mauling at Alabama last September.)

But with the blocking schemes simplified and a talented receiving corps getting coached up, for a change, it sounds like the offense is finally holding its own behind closed doors at Michigan.

Some of that has to do with Patterson’s scrambling ability and his pocket awareness, extending plays with his legs. (“Definitely an addition to the offense that we really needed,” receiver Tarik Black said.) No one’s ready to give away the playbook, but it’s safe to assume that we’ll see more shotgun snaps and more run-pass options with Patterson at quarterback.

What we can’t see just yet are the intangibles that quickly won over coaches and teammates alike.

“Oh, you can tell from just walking around, he has a presence,” fullback Ben Mason said. “He’s not afraid of anything, which is something very important that you need in a quarterback. And he just has this swagger. Honestly, it spreads throughout the team. He gives off positive energy.”

Needing some juice

This Michigan offense desperately needed some of that, coming off an embarrassing showing in 2017, cycling through three quarterbacks — protection issues put a bulls-eye on their backs — and finishing with one of the nation’s most anemic passing offenses.

Speight, Brandon Peters and John O’Korn combined to throw for just 2,226 yards and nine touchdowns, the latter a program low going back to 1975. Patterson actually posted better numbers in half a season at Mississippi last fall, completing 63.8 percent of his passes for 2,259 yards and 17 TDs in seven games before suffering a knee injury in a loss to LSU.

The results weren’t there for either team, and that’s the necessary caveat here. Patterson was 4-6 as a starter at Ole Miss. But that experience counts for something, too. He has played at Alabama and Auburn and Texas A&M in the SEC. “He’s been in the soup at high levels,” as Don Brown, Michigan’s defensive coordinator puts it.

“I think that gives him general respect,” Brown added. “But the way he goes about doing things, he’s certainly earned my respect.”

And now that he has earned his shot, Patterson knows what he has to do next.

“Just go out there and be yourself,” he said.

That just might be all Michigan needs.