The Michigan Wolverines football team has their best situation at the quarterback situation in years. They have a proven starting QB in Shea Patterson, followed by the likes of Dylan McCaffrey, Joe Milton, and Cade McNamara, all who show promise and could become the face of the program in the near future.
However, today we are talking about 2019 and focusing on the QB position. With that in mind, here are 5 questions at quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines.
How will the snaps shake out?
At Big Ten Media Days, Jim Harbaugh made an interesting comment about Dylan McCaffrey, saying that both he and Shea Patterson would be receiving snaps this season. “Where it stands right now, that could change later or not, I see ‘em both playing,” Harbaugh said. “Where it stands right now I see it maybe redefining what a starter is.”
While it sure sounds like Shea Patterson is the guy, Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis realize that any starting QB is always one play away from getting injured, and the backup one play away from becoming the starter. Because of this rationale, it makes sense to give McCaffrey reps here and there, especially if there isn’t much of a talent gap between he and Patterson.
Gattis mentioned last week that playing 2 QB’s is nothing new to him, they did it at Alabama, so it isn’t a surprise that McCaffrey may see the field when the score is close, not just in blowouts.
The other layer to this is the new scheme and the mobility McCaffrey has. While Patterson is a dual-threat QB in his own right, McCaffrey has another gear that isn’t often seen from a QB. He needs to get reps based on his running prowess at the very least.
Also look for Joe Milton to receive a few snaps here and there this season as well.
How often will the QB be allowed to run?
Once Dylan McCaffrey broke his collarbone against Penn State, Michigan’s offense felt a little different. To that point in the season, Shea Patterson was gradually running with the football more on read-option looks, and the offense was inching toward one that was multi-faceted. However, with the McCaffrey injury, the focus shifted towards an offensive approach that kept Patterson healthy and upright, eliminating unnecessary risks (i.e. not dialing up as many QB designed runs).
A year later, with a new offense installed, a healthy McCaffrey at QB No. 2, and an improved Joe Milton behind him, it seems likely that the QB will be able to tuck it and go as much as necessary.
With the pro-spread scheme that is somewhat reliant on RPO looks, Patterson is going to be asked to run the rock a steady amount in 2019. Game-flow and strength of opponent will always predicate how many times Patterson runs, but it would be surprising if he didn’t surpass his 273 yards rushing in 2018 by a healthy margin.
Will the QB take more shots down the field this season?
We keep hearing the phrase #SpeedInSpace in regards to the new Michigan offense. It’s a cool name, sure, but will the results warrant the phrase?
Gattis has made it clear he wants to maximize the strengths of his play-makers on offense and put them in situations where they can do serious damage to a defense. If he’s true to his word, which I believe he is, Patterson is in a prime position to let it rip this season.
Michigan has a talented set of receivers and tight ends this season, some even believe they could be one of the best units in the nation. Patterson will have more than a few options to throw to on any given play that can create separation and allow for a realistic shot at a long completion to transpire.
How well can the QB run the up-tempo offense?
Gattis said last week that Patterson has been “playing lights out” in practice. Part of playing lights out happens before the ball is even snapped, especially in a no-huddle offense. The QB must have complete command in an up-tempo offense. There’s a lot of quick communication in the no-huddle so players are lined up where they’re supposed to be as fast as possible. Without a QB that understands the offense to a high degree, without a QB with the necessary leadership abilities to bark out what needs to be done pre-snap, an up-tempo offense can falter.
The good news for Michigan is Patterson is used to running an offense like this at Ole Miss, and McCaffrey and Milton both ran no-huddle schemes in high school. The up-tempo nature of the offense that Gattis has installed isn’t foreign to Patterson, it’s familiar.
Michigan hasn’t ran a no-huddle offense during the Harbaugh era, so this element will be a key one to look out for in 2019.
Will the QB have enough time to operate in the pocket?
Michigan’s offensive line made major strides in 2018 under new offensive line coach Ed Warinner. However, improvement was still necessary, as the unit struggled against Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Florida.
You always hear, “it all starts in the trenches”, “games are won and lost in the trenches”, and those comments are true. Without a good offensive line, a run game and a quarterback can only do so much.
Just take a look at these stats from 2018 when Patterson had a clean pocket.
Shea Patterson was extremely efficient for Michigan last season and will look to repeat that success this year. pic.twitter.com/6wOBtjWkWW— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 17, 2019
Patterson’s numbers when the o-line protected him were elite. He had a sky-high completion percentage and TD:INT ratio.
The offensive line is being touted as one of the most experienced in the country and Michigan was the only team besides Oregon to have four o-linemen on the Outland Trophy Watch List.
The sample size is already there, if the offensive line protects Patterson, good things are going to happen for Michigan in 2019.