Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh was up front leading up to the season about the desire to get both Shea Patterson and Dylan McCaffrey into game action at quarterback early on this season, sometimes on the field together.
When it finally came to fruition on Saturday night in the 40-21 victory over Middle Tennessee State, people still seemed taken aback by it and some nice runs from McCaffrey and a handful of drives where Michigan moved the ball seemed to re-spark the age-old tradition of hyping up the backup quarterback.
Patterson was 17-of-29 passing for 203 yards and three touchdowns — all in the first half — but was “working through something” (an injury) and received treatment at halftime. That led to an extended look at McCaffrey for a handful of plays in the third quarter and he finished the game 2-for-2 for 17 yards and eight rushes for 42 yards and a touchdown.
At times throughout the game, it was just not about who was under center, though. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis rolled out some plays where one of the QBs would be split out wide, which were not all that successful but is something that seems like is in the playbook for better or worse.
Harbaugh spoke after the game about the decisions to play both guys and some of the issues that popped up, like the stalled drives and the ball security problems that both quarterbacks had at times throughout the game.
“I think there were some things,” Harbaugh said on his quarterbacks and ball security. “As I said, the pre-snap penalties. We bobbled some of the balls. Ball security has to get better. Same with Dylan, I thought a couple of Dylan runs—he fumbled it when he went out of bounds. We’re on it. We’re going to really improve in that area when it comes to quarterbacks handling the ball. This offense, they handle the ball a lot. It’s a lot— the snap, the ride, the decision, the pull and throw. It’s quite good.
“We’re not taking a deep, long bow and we know we can play better. That’s an area we’ve got to be better at and be more efficient at. I thought Shea played extremely well. He probably didn’t tell you but he was working through a little something, he was being evaluated at halftime. I was keeping a close eye on him. Had some quarterback runs designed in the third quarter that I prefer to see Dylan running because I didn’t want to make Shea’s issue worse. Made some great plays, did a great job. The throws he made, the three touchdown passes, that’s big for any quarterback to throw three touchdown passes in a game.”
“Where he was outstanding was managing the checks. They threw a lot of zero blitzes at us which is hard to pick up. They have one extra in the passing game. He got us into the right play four or five times, two of them resulted in touchdown passes. A couple of other option checks and running checks. He was outstanding in that regard. A lot of good things. We’ve seen in practice that we can operate cleaner and that’s what we’ll strive for next week. As I said at first, this is a new offense, and I thought for the first time out, it was. Can it be better? Yeah, sure. That’s what we’ll be striving for.”
As far as if we will both of them moving forward, it seems they are still interested in making an effort in doing so. As I wrote in our takeaways piece, the part of this plan where both guys were on the field at the same time was a bit flawed and stalled momentum. If Michigan wants to continue to use the athleticism of McCaffrey, they may have to be a little more creative about it.