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Injury or not, Michigan needs Shea Patterson to play better

Patterson is still in control of the offense, but things need to happen more quickly moving forward.

Army v Michigan Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Shea Patterson has been under the microscope at Michigan since the day it was announced he would be transferring to Ann Arbor. Last season, Patterson had one of the most efficient passing seasons in the history of the program, but it still felt like the handcuffs were on him with the offensive system that the team had been running under Jim Harbaugh and Pep Hamilton.

Michigan needed to update itself to make its offensive attack more aggressive and more in line with where the sport is heading, namely at the next level. When the program hired Josh Gattis this offseason to be its offensive coordinator and giving him the keys to the system, people loved the sound of “Speed in Space” and what it was going to mean for Michigan’s offensive attack.

Patterson was assumed to be the biggest beneficiary of this with more RPO and option reads coming and a bigger emphasis on getting the ball in the hands of Michigan’s playmakers, namely a trio of wide receivers that includes Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black and good options at both tight end and backs that can catch the ball out of the backfield.

Through the first two games, the results have been mixed.

Week 1 vs. Middle Tennessee State (40-21 W): 17-for-29 (58.6 completion %), 203 yards passing, 3 touchdowns, 9 rushes, 28 yards (3.1 avg), 2 sacks, 2 fumbles (1 lost)

Week 2 vs. Army (24-21 20T W): 19-for-29, 207 yards passing (65.6 completion %), 8 rushes, -18 yards (-2.3 avg), 4 sacks, 2 fumbles (2 lost)

Season so far: 36-for-58 (62.1 completion %), 410 yards passing, 3 touchdowns, 17 rushes for 10 yards, 6 sacks, 4 fumbles (3 lost)

Note: Take into consideration that sacks count against your rushing total in college football

What the stats do not show right now are some of the missed reads in the option game, whether it be by design or if he is being protected due to his health. That said, there have been opportunities to pull the ball and run on his own, which he has proven capable of, that have been missed chances or plays there were not blocked or executed well.

Patterson has been working through an oblique injury, but Michigan maintains that it should not be hindering his performance. However, it does seem like the speed and accuracy of his throws have been off the first two weeks of the year with receivers at times needing to adjust to what they’re being given, which on the completions have wound up maybe costing them a few yards. There have also been two chunk plays/possible touchdowns to Ronnie Bell that have been just off the tips of his fingers and thrown a bit too long.

When you go back and watch the film, outside of the egregious ball security problems he has had in the first two games of the year, Patterson is not playing like a guy that needs to be replaced like a very vocal pocket of fans are calling for. The two fumbles early in both games are plays that cannot happen, but the third one came via backside pressure he never saw coming.

Aside from the turnovers, which should be cleaned up, a few errant throws and a few bad reads in each game have defined his early-season performances. Patterson does not have a history of turning the ball over or being reckless with it in his hands, so perhaps we are dealing with an anomaly right now. He is not far off from being where he needs to be, but he has got to be sharper and hit on two or three more of some of those throws or reads throughout the game. Anyone of them could be game or series-altering plays.

Patterson, even injured, appears to still be the better of the two Michigan quarterbacks between he and Dylan McCaffrey at this stage. If Patterson is hurt to the point where it is affecting his performance, though, someone else has to be ready to go. If he is not hurt, and his performance is just simply lacking, someone needs to be ready to make a push for the job. The mistakes that are being made are correctable, but if they are not corrected, then you are either stuck with the results you have or someone else might need to get a crack at things.

The other concern would be that even injured, Patterson is still ahead of McCaffrey and Joe Milton, which is another conversation to be had altogether.

Gattis’ offense, when it has been humming at times in the first two games of the year, is dependent on rhythm and getting the ball out quickly. It is hard to build rhythm and momentum when turning the ball over on the first through fourth plays of a drive, which is where the self-inflicted wounds have come into play. Michigan is going to lean on RPOs and the quick passing game quite a bit this season, at least it plans to. That only works if the read is sound and the ball is out of the quarterback’s hands in a timely manner. Patterson at times is hurting his offense’s ability to find a rhythm, but he is not far off. Even if you go back and watch the game replays, a decision that comes a split second faster might be all it takes.

Struggles are to be expected in a new offense and anyone who did not think there would be hiccups is kidding themselves. This new system is built around the strengths of Patterson and as he gets more live reps against teams that are not wearing the same helmets as he is, things should slow down and the results should improve. I expect them to, anyways.

If they don’t, somebody else had better be ready to play or at least make a push.