It took all of two minutes and eight seconds Saturday afternoon.
Two minutes and eight seconds for Shea Patterson to find Nico Collins on a 48-yard touchdown down the sideline.
Two minutes and eight seconds for Collins to sprint toward his teammates, shoulder bumping Mike Sainristil and Tarik Black in celebration.
Two minutes and eight seconds for Michigan to discover its offensive groove after four vexing weeks of trying.
The natural caveat, of course, is the Wolverines’ opponent. Rutgers ranks 118th of 130 FBS teams in ESPN’s adjusted efficiency metric. Even Michigan’s backups had no trouble shredding the Scarlet Knights en route to a 52-0 win.
But four weeks ago, the same could have been said of Middle Tennessee State, which ranks 122nd in the same metric. That night, the Wolverines left Michigan Stadium with a 40-21 win that prompted more questions than answers. Saturday, they did the opposite.
“Josh Gattis, all the offense coaches and offensive players, the precision they had, they improved and it showed,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “Put together a really good gameplan and the players knew it. … And it’s good to see it paid off in a victory that was much needed.”
Through three games, the questions swirling over Michigan’s offensive identity were unavoidable. In week two’s overtime win over Army, the Wolverines ran 14 more times than they passed, including an inexplicable run of 13 straight rushing plays at the end of regulation. Last week, en route to a 21-point loss at Wisconsin, Michigan gained just 40 yards on the ground, opting for an air game that proved equally ineffective.
At the center of it all was Patterson. It’s a natural place for a quarterback to sit when his team struggles, but Patterson’s start to the season only added fuel to the fire.
His completion percentage was down nine points from a year ago. His yards per attempt had dropped from 8.0 to 7.0. On the ground, he had dropped from 21 yards per game to three.
Saturday afternoon, he was back to his old self. The final line — 17-for-23 for 276 yards, four total touchdowns and an interception — says it all.
“Any time after a loss like that, it can go two ways,” Patterson said. “And we worked hard every single day in practice, trusted the game plan. I just really like the way we responded as a team.”
Patterson’s natural reaction when he’s asked about himself is to deflect. When the questions inevitably came Saturday, he credited the coaches’ gameplan, the offensive line’s pass protection, the receivers for getting open and the defense for advantageous field position. Not once did he mention himself.
But ask anyone else and you’ll find out what Patterson means to this team.
“Shea’s one of the best guys I know about handling his mentality,” said sophomore running back Christian Turner. “Media likes to bash him and stuff like that, but Shea’s a baller and we all believe in Shea and Shea believes in us.”
If you don’t believe him, you could just watch the game.
All afternoon, Patterson was clicking. Two plays in, he found Ronnie Bell for a 14-yard gain that would have been his second-biggest of the first three quarters against Wisconsin. A minute later came the touchdown to Collins. On the next drive, it only took him two completions to get Michigan inside the Rutgers’ five-yard line, because the second of those was a perfectly thrown deep ball to Donovan Peoples-Jones on the left sideline.
Three plays later, he strolled into the end zone untouched for his first rushing touchdown of the year.
“He did really good,” Peoples-Jones said. “Sat back there and made some really good throws. His reads. Every assignment that he did, he did well today.”
As for the questions about Michigan’s offensive identity? Those came with a notably different twist — is this your identity, not what is your identity?
“It definitely helps,” Peoples-Jones said of the connection between Patterson’s performance and the Wolverines’ identity.
“… Whenever he plays good, everybody plays good.”