Shea Patterson remembers sitting on the Ohio Stadium sideline in the fourth quarter, Donovan Peoples-Jones next to him, as the minutes ticked down. The game, by then, was long over. Michigan’s season — or at least all the goals it had harbored coming into Columbus that day — was, too.
As the end grew nearer, Patterson stood. When the clock hit zero, he trudged his way to the tunnel, holding his helmet in his left hand and wading through a sea of red. His mind trained itself forward.
“Just remembering that we’re gonna get another shot at them,” Patterson told reporters Tuesday, “at a different place.”
Patterson’s 20-of-34 performance, including a backbreaking interception, was part of a disastrous afternoon all around for the Wolverines a year ago. Headed into Columbus with a chance to put an exclamation mark on its best season in years, with a chance to all but seal a spot in the College Football Playoff, with a chance to snap a losing streak against the Buckeyes that dates to 2011, Michigan got run off the field, 62-39.
A month after that, the loss weighing heavily in his mind, Patterson announced he would return for his senior year. And on Saturday, he’ll have his chance to atone.
“It was a huge part of (decision to come back),” Patterson said. “I love playing for this team, love playing for these coaches, I love my teammates and I love this university. So, not only myself, there’s countless seniors in this class that have waited a whole 365 (days) to play in this game.
“So we’ll be ready for it.”
There is less at stake this time. Michigan already has two losses, Ohio State has already clinched the Big Ten East, the Wolverines’ chances of a Rose Bowl are thin at best, the Buckeyes’ chances of making the Playoff are at 81 percent, per FiveThirtyEight.
And still, Saturday means everything. For few more than Patterson — who grew up a Michigan fan in Toledo and came back for his senior year in large part because of what happened in The Game last year. Who recalled Tuesday being one of the only kids in school wearing maize and blue during rivalry week. Who is currently playing his best football in a Michigan uniform, throwing for a combined 750 yards and nine touchdowns in the last two weeks.
“He’s going into these games very confident about his reads, very confident about his job,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday. “Being able to see coverages, anticipate defenses and playing with great timing, poise, accuracy. Doing tremendous things.”
“Shea’s just having fun,” said junior receiver Nico Collins, the recipient of three touchdowns Saturday. “He’s playing looser. We got his back, and we’re going to be there for him.”
“He’s playing real confident,” said junior receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. “Trust in us, trust in himself most importantly.”
Peoples-Jones recalled that conversation with Patterson on the sideline last year with brevity. “Everybody was kinda upset that we had lost that game,” he said, without going into further detail. Still, it’s clear that everyone in the building carries the weight of last year’s Game into this year’s. Patterson in particular.
“For us, we take each game one week at a time,” Patterson said. “But in the back of our minds, each week leading up to this one is for this week. We prepare all year for this game, whether that be in spring and scout periods in the summer, bye week whatever it may be. We slowly and silently prepared for them all year.”
He was then asked if he had thought about what it would mean to win on Saturday. And for the briefest of moments, before affirming his focus was just on the next day’s practice, Patterson peeled back the curtain.
“I have,” he said. “I have.”