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What we learned from Michigan’s blowout victory against Michigan State

The Wolverines claimed another state championship in decisive fashion.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, Jim Harbaugh & the Michigan Wolverines won the state championship by clobbering the Michigan State Spartans 44-10. Last week, we danced in the darkness of East Lansing, so this week, let us bask in the light of Ann Arbor.

Saturday’s victory was historic and it begins with two of the most maligned players of the season and all circles back to the team (the team, the team).

Shea Patterson

Shea Patterson was deserving of criticism at the beginning of the season and he is deserving of praise now. The only thing that has significantly changed in Patterson, aside from his reported oblique injury, however, is simply his confidence.

The first half of the season, Patterson was a shell of the player we saw in 2018: timid, indecisive, and playing like a high school quarterback whose father makes him run home after games for “embarrassing him.”

Shea Patterson was incredible on Saturday, completing 24-of-33 passes for 384 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no turnovers.

With this all-time performance, Patterson etched his name in the history books several times:

  • Tied second for the most passing touchdowns in a single game by a Michigan quarterback
  • Fifth most passing yards in a single game by a Michigan quarterback (highest completion percentage of the top 5)
  • Broke the record for most passing yards against Michigan State (previously held by Tom Brady)
Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

There is now a commanding presence to Patterson that is palpable to the entire team. He is no longer allowing a single play (good or bad) to dictate his future performance. Every play is not accompanied with the crippling pressure of perfection and that has allowed Patterson to play more freely.

The only thing limiting Shea Patterson’s potential was Shea Patterson, not any more.

Every skill position player has benefited from Patterson’s improvement, but perhaps no more than sophomore receiver Ronnie Bell.

Ronnie Bell

“Two-star gonna two-star.” - Overheard after Michigan’s 28-21 loss at Penn State.

Some of the coldest takes in recent Michigan fan history are centered around Ronnie Bell. From his recruitment as only being a two-star rated player, to the crucial drop against Penn State, fans have scrutinized Bell at every opportunity.

Hopefully his nine catches and 150 receiving yards are enough to quiet the vocal minority for awhile.

Bell has not allowed star ratings or ‘‘The Drop’ to define his tenure at Michigan. He has taken everything in stride and responded with excellence in one of the most important games of the season.

While he still seeks his first touchdown on the season, Ronnie Bell is the leading receiver on the team in receptions and yards. Two-star gonna two-star, baby.

The Team, The Team, The Team

Saturday was a team win at all three phases. How else can one explain a victory this dominant?

The 34-point victory was the largest for either team in this long standing rivalry since Michigan beat the Spartans 49-3 in 2002. I understand that Michigan State is on the decline, but even in years when one team was significantly better than the other, margins of victory this great are rare.

The defense was again smothering as they forced 2 turnovers, 6 punts, and only allowed the Spartans to convert 2-of-13 third downs. As recent as last year, Michigan’s offense has had to rely on a strong defensive efforts like these to help them out. Saturday proved that Michigan’s offense can be just as good as their defense.

‘‘Speed in Space’ exists and it is damn beautiful to watch. Josh Gattis called a brilliant game with balance (33 rushes, 34 passes) and creativity. And while the rushing attack was held in check with only 83 yards, the Michigan passing attack was more than lethal.

Nine different players caught a pass and five different players scored touchdowns for the Wolverines (Hassan Haskins, Nick Eubanks, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins, and Cornelius Johnson).

The aforementioned Patterson was excellent, but my offensive MVP is left tackle Jon Runyan Jr. No tackle in the country has had to face the level of talent that Runyan does (A.J. Epenesa, Yetur Gross-Matos, Kenny Willekes) or will the rest of the season (Chase Young).

Runyan shows up play after play, protecting Patterson’s blindside, opening running lanes, and anchoring an offense that only punted one time against the Spartans.

Not to be outdone, Michigan’s special teams were once again a highlight for the team. The Wolverines have utilized the third phase of the game as a game changer in a myriad of ways.

Quinn Nordin was 3-for-3 on field goals (long of 49) and perfect on extra points. The return of Nordin’s confidence, much like Shea’s, has turned a critical part of the game into a strength late in the season.

And for the second straight game, Michigan blocked a punt (credit to Khaleke Hudson). Special Teams Coordinator Chris Partridge’s unit has emerged as the complementary third phase of this Michigan team.

The 2016 recruiting class is the first class since 2005 to have a winning record against Michigan State. Of those four years, three of them have been some of the most enjoyable seasons to be Michigan fans.

2016 is considered the best Michigan team talent-wise of the decade; 2018 had the Revenge Tour; 2019 is the first season Michigan has beaten Notre Dame and Michigan State by 30+ points.

Conference titles and the last game in November have proved elusive so far, but the in-state power balance has shifted back to the Michigan Wolverines.

To paraphrase Ghostbusters, “Michigan came, they saw, and they kicked their ass.”