ORLANDO, Fla. — It was 487 days ago Shea Patterson stood at the podium in a crammed media room in South Bend, trying to explain what went wrong in Michigan’s 24-17 loss to Notre Dame. He’d been on campus for no more than six months. He’d been the starting quarterback for fewer than four hours.
But he promised better.
“We hit some adversity tonight,” he said. “… Maybe this was a good thing it happened to us. Obviously we don’t want to start out like that, but there’s always room to grow. We’re just going to look at the tape and get better every single week.
“Can’t dwell on it. You’ve got to move on.”
Wednesday afternoon, in the Citrus Bowl, Patterson’s Michigan career all-but certainly came to an end. With one second remaining, down 35-16, he heaved up a 50-yard hail mary, tossed up his hands inquisitively, then rested them on his hips. He was greeted by offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who shared a brief word, then he disappeared into the sea of players on the field.
This was not how it was supposed to end for his team, in a half-empty stadium in Orlando with any hope of salvaging pride drained. His final stat line — 17-for-37, 233 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions — left a sour taste that will undoubtedly linger.
“Not sure how to feel,” Patterson said after the game. “I just try to embrace everything that last half had. Just trying to enjoy my teammates and just try to be the Michigan quarterback. As far as anything else, I just want to enjoy my teammates the last couple days I’m with them.”
Patterson came into the game playing some of the best football of his life. He was coming off three consecutive 300-plus yard games. The rapport with his talented receivers was arguably the best it’s been in his entire career.
Early on, though, it was clear he was far from his best. Patterson started the day 1-for-5, missing junior Nico Collins for a potential touchdown on the first drive. On the back of a resurgent rushing attack, though, Patterson helped guide four consecutive scoring drives going into halftime, all of which amassed over seven plays.
When the script flipped in the second half, and the Crimson Tide stymied Michigan’s rushing attack, Patterson had no rebuttal. He missed open receivers for possible big plays. At times, he danced around skittishly in the pocket, taking ill-advised sacks, struggling to go through his reads.
Patterson completed just eight of 19 passes for 82 yards in the second half, including two interceptions. Michigan failed to score.
“I didn’t play my best. I missed a few throws,” Pattersons aid. “Thought I could’ve calmed my feet down early on, on the first or second drive. I thought I didn’t make enough plays — yeah, not my best game.”
“I thought there was some really good coverage,” added Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “And some of the shot plays, I don’t know if he missed any open receivers. I thought Shea had a good game. I thought he did as much as he could in the game.”
In spite of it all, the Michigan offense got the ball back with 6:13 left in the game, down 12, with a chance to narrow the gap. A chance for Patterson to leave on his terms, to leave a legacy that always seems tantalizingly within reach. The one that his talent should have allowed.
That drive lasted one play.
Patterson floated a pass toward redshirt junior tight end Nick Eubanks on the sideline. But Eubanks was already 10 yards upfield instead, and the ball landed comfortably in the hands of Alabama defensive back Shyheim Carter.
“Maybe just a desperation throw,” Patterson said. “Maybe I could have came down and checked it down to my back.”
He ambled over to the sideline, eventually settling behind the rest of his team. Winged helmet by his side, he didn’t say much to senior tight end Sean McKeon, who sat on a bench to his right.
It wasn’t his final throw as a Wolverine. But it was the nail in the coffin.
Much has changed in the ensuing months and years since Patterson’s debut in South Bend. He threw for 45 touchdowns to just 15 interceptions. He completed over 60 percent of his passes and exceeded 5,000 yards passing. He’s the first Michigan quarterback to put together a passing efficiency rating above 140 in back-to-back seasons since Elvis Grbac in 1991-1992, according to Sports Reference.
Much, though, remains the same. Patterson’s name joines the growing list of Wolverines who never beat Ohio State, who never won a Big Ten title, who never won a bowl game.
Now he will cede the burdensome title of Michigan quarterback to the next suitor — likely Dylan McCaffrey or Joe Milton — in hopes they can carry it forward.
Shea, what do you make of your time here at Michigan?
Rarely is a legacy in sports straight-forward. Rarely can it encapsulate the nuance of imperfection. Mere moments after the loss was certainly not the time to make sense of it all.
“Ah man, the game just ended 20 minutes ago,” he said, “and I’m just trying to take it all in.”
When he does opt to reflect, he will likely choose to remember the best of times. Both wins over Michigan State. The peak of the Revenge Tour. The 89-yard run against Wisconsin last year. The back-to-back 300-plus yard, four-plus touchdown performances this season.
He won’t dwell on the Citrus Bowl. Four-hundred-eighty-seven days later, it’s time to move on.