Michigan was scrapping and clawing, and its senior quarterback was leading the charge.
Down 28-14 on Saturday, Shea Patterson marched his team down to the one-yard line in the middle of the fourth quarter, facing a fourth-and-goal with the game in the balance. The Wolverines called Patterson’s number, a quarterback sneak, in hopes of muscling their way to a one-possession game. There was literal scrapping, clawing — and, apparently, gouging.
“The dude has his index finger up my eye, in my eye socket, for like 10 seconds,” Patterson said Tuesday, unable to identify which Penn State defensive player. “That wasn’t good.
“I was trying to reach the ball across the plane, and for a good while I was screaming for my life. I wasn’t too happy about that.”
After the referees finally signaled for a touchdown, the lengthy quarrel finally dispersing, Patterson walked over to the sideline, vision blurred, with tears streaming from his eyes. His team had life, if only temporary. Some hindered vision would not deter him.
It is in that context — complementing his 24-for-41, 276-yard performance — that the praise for his best performance of the season takes on a new meaning.
“Each game, Shea’s getting better and better,” said junior wide receiver Nico Collins. “During the season, he had a couple turnovers and he learned from turnovers. That’s hard. We want Shea back right now. He’s the quarterback and we all trust in Shea. He believes in us.”
Added Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh: “I think Shea has been playing great football. Heroic. Really pleased. He's into it, his demeanor every game. Confident, excited about it. Likes being in that type of atmosphere and playing in that type of game. Sense it from everything about him.”
It’s the kind of praise Harbaugh has heaped on his signal-caller all year, through the good and bad. Patterson’s performance in the first six games underwhelmed relative to high external expectations, undoubtedly hindered by an oblique injury suffered on the very first play of the season against Middle Tennessee State — a play that resulted in a Patterson fumble.
Tuesday, Patterson noted the game in State College was “the first time I think I went out there and was 100 percent healthy.” It would help explain the newfound agility and tenacity that was readily on display last season. A little swagger, too.
In those six games, he made no such excuses, though. He regularly demanded better, both from himself and his team, and took the blame when things went awry. On the converse, Patterson was hesitant to accept any praise in the aftermath of a 28-21 loss to the Nittany Lions.
“Any time you don’t win, for me, I’m trying to do everything I can to win it for that locker room,” Patterson said. “And this offense is doing everything it can to win because we hate losing. It really doesn’t matter how I played. All that matters is the end result, and we didn’t win.”
A reinvigoration of Patterson’s season would be at once encouraging and deflating for a two-loss team now ostensibly eliminated from Big Ten- and College Football Playoff-contention. It’s not difficult to envision a second-half resurgence lifting this Wolverines offense to new heights — a strong close to the season, maybe some important rivalry wins.
Who knows where this season, Patterson’s last, might be if he had found his footing earlier in the year. Or if he’d never taken a hit to the oblique in the first place. Ask him, though, and he’ll tell you it’ll take a whole lot more than an index finger in his eye to stop fighting.
“We have an opportunity — we have a decision to make,” Patterson said Tuesday, very matter-of-factly. “Our goal is to win every game the rest of the season. I love this team. We’re all so close, and we trust each other, and we love playing together.
“I don’t think there is any other goal than to just win.”