Almost every single Michigan player entered the 2019 season with increased expectations following a rough end to the previous season, but as with any team, it was the quarterback who drew the most intrigue. Shea Patterson had a solid 2018; if anything, he was a little underrated last year. Still, many were excited to see what noted quarterback whisper Jim Harbaugh could do in Year 2 with his signal caller.
The early results in this hyped-up season were frustrating. The first three games saw five touchdowns to one interception, but four lost fumbles are what stick out most. Even when Patterson was holding onto the ball and accurately connecting with his receivers, it seemed like a lateral progression from last year instead of a tangible step forward.
What looked to be most problematic, however, is what does not show up in the box score. Frequently Patterson seemed to make the incorrect read — or at least fail to see an open man — and this was not limited to just the passing game.
Patterson is no Denard Robinson, but he possess enough talent to keep defenses on their toes via his running threat. Despite this speed, early in the 2019 season there appeared to be a hesitancy to keep the ball on read options. This cannot be the case for the Wolverines to be successful. Even if he only runs it a few times per game, Patterson must at least appear to be a threat on the ground to open up other mismatches for the offense.
A modest result with major potential
Against Rutgers, Patterson had an interesting stat line on the ground (after taking out sacks): 3 rushes, 7 yards, 3 touchdowns. Of course, no player is going to run for a touchdown every time he keeps the ball, and Rutgers only finds its way on the schedule once a year. Nevertheless, this should be seen as a clear sign of hope.
Each of the touchdowns demonstrated a different type of skill that Patterson can flash as a runner. The first score came on a roll out that could have been an easy lob to Nick Eubanks, with Patterson instead choosing to waltz into the end zone after the Scarlet Knights sold out for the run.
His second of the day was a little more improvisational, with a quarterback keep being the last read. Still, Patterson’s ability to scramble here and make the heads-up play is something that Michigan needs to see more often.
Finally, the third touchdown was about as straightforward as it gets. The quarterback sneak is not something that should be expected too often, but with all of the fumble troubles early on in the season, it was nice to see the team actually convert in this type of situation.
One takeaway might seem to be that Patterson is a danger at the goal line, and this is definitely true. But extrapolating on this day to show how he can hurt defenses in multiple ways should be the bigger lesson. Though he yet again did not do anything in the read option game and only carried the ball three times for under 10 yards, this still looks like he is moving in the right direction.
Patterson’s willingness to run with the ball and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’s desire to put him in positions to make things happen with his feet is a very positive sign. The Wolverines are infinitely times more dangerous with a mobile quarterback, and perhaps this success against Rutgers will unlock something more in the offense. There is still so much more room for growth here, but these three touchdown runs could be the spark for something big to come.