The Michigan football team’s 38-13 walloping of Wisconsin was enough to vault the Wolverines to No. 6 in the AP Poll. It was also enough to re-ignite talks of Big Ten Championship contention and even College Football Playoff hopes.
The players will tell you it’s just onto the next game against No. 24 Michigan State, with little mention of the clamor around it. Shea Patterson will tell you that and then some.
“We had a fun time last Saturday, but that game is over with, it’s in the past, it’s history,” the junior quarterback said. “It’s almost like it doesn’t even exist anymore. Now our main focus is Michigan State and after that it will be the bye week and preparing for Penn State.”
The “next week” mentality is a universal go-to for players. But with seven games now under Patterson’s belt, his words are more welcome than wishy-washy.
Though his statline is uninspiring — just 1,311 yards and 11 touchdowns — Patterson has improved as a game manager and became everything and more to a Michigan team that thinks it’s finally over the hump and deserving of a spot in the national discussion.
After a lackluster showing at Notre Dame, that proposition was unimaginable. Now, citing “week-by-week improvement” has legs to stand on.
“(Patterson) finds another thing to be really good at every single week,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “This past week, his running ability, the ball-handling, the fakes, with carrying out the fakes and the decision-making, ball security. He does a great job of taking care of the football.”
And as Patterson approached the media Tuesday evening, evidence of these newly designed run plays was out in the open — ice and a bandage wrapped around a stitched-up cut on his left hand he suffered on his seven-yard touchdown run Saturday.
Patterson took a step back at first, but that’s only led to his ascendance. He is used to being the centerpiece. In Michigan’s offense, he’s learning to delineate between when to be an offensive piece and when to be a focal point.
“Growing up and kind of just trying to be the big-time playmaker all the time,” Patterson remarked of his play style in high school. “You’ve got an incredible defense, incredible special teams and amazing players around me. Just managing the game and the biggest thing, as (quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton) says, just manage it by play. Don’t make a bad play worse. If you can make something happen, make it happen.”
Patterson, of course, is far from a finished product. Sometimes an attempt to make something happen has taken the Wolverines out of field-goal range or forced a turnover. According to him, improving the different facets of being a game manager is how he describes his focus. This week’s emphasis is ball security. Last week was pocket presence.
“I threw a couple away last game, I think that’s progression,” Patterson said with a smile. “Just understanding the situation, field position and not getting us out of field goal range. I think I could have done a better job against Wisconsin of doing that. Just managing, being a better manager of the offense. That’s the one thing I’m focusing on right now.”
The function of a game manager will vary depending on the quarterback you ask. For Patterson, the list of demands has seemed simple: limit turnovers, make high-percentage throws and don’t force anything. For the most part, he has checked those boxes.
Is there still room for trickery? The stone-faced Patterson says “probably” with the same conviction of not giving any answer at all.
As it stands, the Michigan offense is still incomplete, and not by virtue of a still-expanding playbook. But the Wolverines’ offensive line gave every reason on Saturday to believe in them. And wide receiver Tarik Black is geared for a return this season. It’s a puzzle to be finished in due time, one that has been developing an offensive character that Patterson believes in.
“Our O-line has gotten to the point where — for the majority of the season they’ve done a great job of giving me comfort to stay in the pocket,” Patterson said. “We’ve grown so much as an offensive unit since week one. Earlier in the year we were trying to figure ourselves, and now we kinda have an identity and we’re growing on it each day in practice and in the film room.”
A loss against the Spartans could make this growth seem for naught. But as road favorites against its in-state rival, Michigan and Patterson have reasons to believe in the team’s growth.