UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Shea Patterson stifled tears, his faded eye black running down a solemn face. Beneath the table where Patterson sat, stains from Beaver Stadium’s green grass covered his once-white uniform, the product of a day when he did everything he could for Michigan.
Criticized for not going through his reads, being too tentative to scramble and missing open receivers, Patterson excelled in those aspects against Penn State on Saturday night, finishing with a season-high 276 yards on 24-of-41 passing.
For the Wolverines, it’s the type of performance they envisioned when Patterson transferred from Ole Miss two years ago with the billing of a can’t-miss quarterback prospect who would get Jim Harbaugh over the hump. Twenty games later, that hump remains pervasive as Patterson enters the final stretch of his Michigan career with a 15-5 record, but void of the lofty goals he carried to Ann Arbor.
After Saturday night, that’s the juxtaposition Michigan has to live with.
“I was just proud of our guys and the defense held them to one touchdown in a real tight second half,” Patterson said. “I just love the way our offense fought back.”
Patterson, so often a microcosm of Michigan’s offense, stood at the center of that turnaround.
When the Wolverines went down 21-0 midway through the second quarter, it was Patterson’s interception — his one glaring mistake all game — that put Penn State in prime position for its third touchdown. As Patterson walked off the field, he cast a familiarly frustrated figure, his right hand planted on his hip as Harbaugh gave him a condoling pat on the helmet.
Patterson seemed to be heading toward a similarly uninspired performance to his 14-of-32 showing against Wisconsin a month ago. Behind him, Michigan was on its own march to a repeat of that day in Madison, with the game seemingly over before halftime.
Only this time, it wasn’t.
“It didn’t (go off the rails early), but our guys play with great effort and great character,” Harbaugh said. “Yeah. Made adjustments at halftime. They were good and I felt like our guys were not nervous. They were playing and executing.”
On his first throw after the interception, Patterson found Nico Collins on a 30-yard gain, part of a season-high 89-yard game for Collins. Amid a season in which he’s drawn criticism for not targeting Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black, Patterson found the trio for 14 completions on 22 tries Saturday. Seven plays after Collins took the Wolverines into Penn State territory, Michigan found paydirt for the first time.
“I thought the offense did a lot of really good things tonight,” Harbaugh said. “The offensive line, pass protection was really good. Thought Shea had a really good night throwing the football.”
The rest of the evening was more of the same for Patterson, who constructed seven drives into Penn State territory. The problem: only three ended in points, sending the Wolverines to a loss that ended every tangible goal they carried into the season.
But before that — before Ronnie Bell’s end zone drop sent Beaver Stadium into a relieved delirium — Patterson gave Michigan a chance, constructing three straight drives to the Nittany Lions’ goal line.
When the third of those drives ended in his final pass crashing to the turf, Patterson couldn’t help but throw his hands to the air in frustration. Because on the night when he delivered everything that was once promised, Patterson’s Michigan dreams went crashing down with it.