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Film Study: Explaining why Dylan McCaffrey could split QB1 with Shea Patterson

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Patterson is the starter, but these characteristics of McCaffrey could change that.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Notre Dame Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Harbaugh had quite a week, as his comments on several pressing issues made local and national headlines from Big Ten Media Days. One of the most peculiar comments was when he was asked about the quarterback room in 2019:

“Where it stands right now, I see maybe redefining what a starter is. I see that. That’s where it is now. You want to get both (Patterson and McCaffrey) on the field either at the same time or separately. When I say I want to play them both in games, it’s really going to be, they’re both playing quarterback during the same game. The way it stands now, in every game.”

Harbaugh is known for some outside-the-box thinking and play-calling, but this one is difficult to decipher.

This isn’t going to be a Jake Fromm/Justin Fields situation like Georgia had in 2018, where Fromm was focused on throwing plays and Fields was more as a dual-threat/running. Instead, the Wolverines may play two quarterbacks who play similarly.

Both Patterson and McCaffrey excel in extending plays with their legs and making good throws off a roll out.

On an admittedly limited amount of tape on McCaffrey in-game, most of his successful roll out passes were completed on short crossing routes like this one:

McCaffrey struggled to connect with receivers on the deeper passes off a roll out right:

Patterson, on the other hand, could roll out to the left or right and hit receivers deep downfield with consistency. Here he is rolling left and completing a pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones down the field:

It was a dangerous, but confident throw that not many other quarterbacks in the country could make.

His ability to extend this play against Maryland led to a 33-yard touchdown pass to DPJ:

Roll-outs like this from Patterson were a huge reason why he was so successful last year. That is why ESPN compared Patterson to Patrick Mahomes in The Game last November.

The Wolverines look to run a similar spread offense in 2019 to that of the Chiefs. Obviously if Patterson could replicate even a smidge of what Mahomes did in a similar offense, it will be a huge boon for Michigan.

Moving to either sideline, having a better ability to extend plays, and making more accurate throws off a roll out to all levels is one area Patterson is better than McCaffrey.

However, Josh Gattis might like McCaffrey slightly more because of his work inside the pocket. In spread-like sets Michigan ran last season, he would throw quick, beautiful pinpoint tosses to his receivers like this one:

Even though this pass was incomplete, McCaffery placed this in a spot where only former Wolverine receiver Oliver Martin could have caught it, and he got it out of his hands quickly.

Look how quickly McCaffrey gets this touch pass out later in the game for a big touchdown to Ronnie Bell:

Coach Gattis is going to be looking for throws just like these ones. Being able to hit guys on the sidelines in between coverages is going to be an instrumentally important aspect to the new offense in 2019.

Patterson certainly hit his fair share of deep balls last season, but there were times he under-threw guys who could have had a touchdown if he led them enough. Check this play against Penn State:

Here is another example against Western Michigan:

He also needed more time in the pocket to find the open receivers further downfield. Look how long it took him to find a wide open Nico Collins against Rutgers:

Although Michigan’s offensive line is very good, Patterson just won’t have that kind of time against much better opponents like Ohio State. Here, Patterson is looking for someone open downfield, but takes too long to make a decision and gets sacked:

Here is another example against Florida. Patterson has his eyes downfield, tries to roll out left and makes the worst play of his season in the Peach Bowl blowout loss.

The quick decision-making process is something Patterson will need to improve upon to earn every single minute this season. Speed is now of the essence for the Michigan offense, and if McCaffrey is getting the ball out quicker with the same amount of accuracy (or better) than Patterson, it would make sense why there is a debate for QB1.

Michigan needs to start winning the big games against big time opponents. The Wolverines went 0-3 against teams that finished in the top 10 by the end of the season (Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Florida).

Patterson had a 62 percent completion rate for 650 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions in those big games last year. That is adequate, but not good enough to carry the Wolverines to victory. Maybe Gattis or Harbaugh think McCaffrey could do better.

Harbaugh even said this about McCaffrey prior to the 2018 season, “He’s got a lot of that ‘it’ factor to him. That winning factor. It shows up in two-minute drives...Dylan gets in there and leads the team down for touchdowns.”

That kind of leadership and pace of moving the ball down the field is exactly why McCaffrey is getting consideration for the job.

The Wolverines are striving for championships in 2019. In order to do that, they need to win those big games. Although Patterson was good in games against top 10 opponents, he was not great. Does Patterson have that ‘winning factor’ Harbaugh was talking about with McCaffrey? His play in 2018 didn’t seem to show it in the big moments. If that trend continues, McCaffrey could sneak his way into the starting roll sooner than many imagined.