TAMPA, Fla. — A proclamation came from the first row of Raymond James Stadium.
“It’s Patterson season,” one fan screamed in Brandon Peters’ direction.
And thus, the proverbial cloud hanging over the redshirt freshman’s head became very, very literal.
He stood on the sideline, helmet perched upon his head.
He was a lonely man, playing one of football’s loneliest positions. He had just gone four-and-out with four incompletions, the Michigan football team’s penultimate gasp in a 26-19 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
Little did he know his world was about to get a whole lot lonelier. His defense gave him a final chance at playing hero. He would throw his second pick of the game, on 4th-and-1, to seal the win for the Gamecocks once and for all. Then he would trot off the field accompanied only by Sean McKeon.
So yes, it well may be ‘Patterson season.’ The former Ole Miss quarterback is officially in Ann Arbor, set to enroll in classes and begin offseason workouts while he awaits the fate of his eligibility.
But here’s the rub: Shea Patterson can’t fix Michigan’s problems.
After the game, asked what was necessary for the program to get to the next level, Jim Harbaugh offered little clarity and no specificity.
“We’ll look at every aspect of it,” he said, “and we’ll make improvements.”
Not long after, Karan Higdon was asked to summarize Michigan’s 8-5 season.
“I think it’s definitely a learning season,” he said. “We learned a lot about ourselves, a lot about our program, a lot about our coaches, our players, and I think going into next year we’ve got to put it all together. … We’ve gotta capitalize on those things and fix the little things as well.”
The problem is that Michigan certainly has improvements to make, but they’re not a matter of the “little things,” as the issues have been described all season.
And despite the Wolverines’ optimism with each passing week that they were one step away from a breakthrough, the fact remains that they’re not.
That doesn’t change that, in the week leading up Monday’s matchup, the consensus was rather simple.
A matchup with the Gamecocks was an opportunity for progress, a springboard for 2018.
But given a month to prepare, it was anything but. And the evidence was strung across four quarters in Raymond James Stadium.
Near the seven-minute mark of the second quarter, freshman Brad Robbins was replaced with Will Hart after hitting three of his first four punts under 35 yards, only to be reinstated on the next fourth down when Hart hit a line drive himself.
With just over nine minutes left in the third quarter, Higdon fumbled inside the five-yard line with a chance to put the Wolverines up by 19.
Then came the fumble on Michigan’s own 21-yard line and the 17-point onslaught that gave the Gamecocks the lead and the two interceptions.
All the while, the Wolverines relied on their kicker to generate points and watched as a makeshift offensive line that is largely indicative of the future was manhandled.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s probably because it happened in Arlington against Florida, too.
As for the cherry on top?
Asked how long it took South Carolina to figure out Michigan’s offense, cornerback JaMarcus King left things pretty plainly.
Taking that all into account, it may be time for fans to prepare for a tough reality.
Shea Patterson can beat a defense with his legs. As things stand, he isn’t fast enough to make up for his offensive line.
He has a pretty arm, but won’t produce 300-yard outings if his offense is predictable.
He has a fanbase hungry for him, hungry for a savior.
But they felt that way about Peters, too, not so long ago. And the same problems that undid him remain, leaving Michigan in a bit of a conundrum.
The Wolverines have a lot to fix themselves. Shea Patterson can’t do it for them.