The Michigan football team separates its offense into three groups to tailor its strength and conditioning program: lineman, small skill — running backs and receivers — and big skill for quarterbacks and tight ends.
But those categories don’t hold for Shea Patterson. Throughout his time with the Wolverines, the junior quarterback has drilled with those shiftier players, working to match their speed and agility.
“Except for the long distance, I stay with the big skill (for that),” Patterson said.
Saturday, that work showed. Patterson made plays with his feet throughout Michigan’s victory over Maryland, helping him throw for a season-high 282 yards and three touchdowns on 19-of-27 passing.
That included some of Patterson’s most impressive plays to date. At the end of the second quarter, he flashed shades of one of his quarterback idols, 2012 Heisman Trophy Winner Johnny Manziel.
Working from just beyond the redzone, Patterson faked the handoff, sprinted out to his left and saw nothing. Then, like a shortstop turning a double-play with a baserunner incoming, Patterson whipped it into coverage with a Terrapin in his face. And just as another Maryland player looked to be in position to make the interception, Ronnie Bell flashed across field to take it away. Six yards and a dive later, the freshman receiver and Patterson had their first touchdown connection.
The throw required courage — Patterson was drilled after releasing — creativity and risk.
“He does some amazing things out there on the field,” said sophomore center Cesar Ruiz. “Having him make those kind of plays — improvise when things get crazy and make a play out of it — it’s just amazing to have someone like that lead our offense.”
Patterson also channeled that improvisation ability on his second score.
Down thirteen a quarter later, Maryland blitzed and got a free rusher in the backfield almost immediately. But Patterson spun backwards — a “whirlybird” as Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called it — to escape the pocket. Most quarterbacks would’ve quit there — rolling to the left 17 yards behind the line of scrimmage is not an advantageous position.
But for not Patterson.
Quickly refocusing his eyes downfield, he completed to a wide-open Donovan Peoples-Jones, who scampered the remaining distance for a 34-yard score.
“He’s a dynamic player,” said senior running back Karon Hidgon. “We’ve seen him make plays like that time and time again since he’s been here. … It’s not a shocker to us.
“He’s able to pick his feet up, put them down, get out of tight windows — he does a heck of a job.”
Though it wasn’t the same kind of high-level play, Patterson utilized his mobility on his third touchdown, too. On play-action with first-and-goal in the fourth quarter, Patterson ran to the right and slipped a touchdown pass to junior fullback Jared Wangler.
It was the type of play Harbaugh couldn’t have run with previous quarterbacks. Jake Rudock and Wilton Speight were both defined by what they could do within the pocket rather than outside of it.
But Patterson’s legs give Michigan another element.
“He’s really good when he gets outside of the pocket,” Harbaugh said. “Really dangerous throwing on the run, seeing the field or running himself. It’s a real weapon. He’s really growing and playing better and better every week. He throws really well in the pocket when he has (time), and when he has to, he’s got a real knack — great peripheral vision (or) sensation — of where to be in the pocket.”
Patterson was also effective there. He unloaded a 51-yard bomb to sophomore receiver Nico Collins in the second quarter before finding People-Jones for another deep strike — though the latter was called back after a holding penalty.
Patterson won’t always have that kind of time. Saturday, however, Patterson showed he doesn’t always need it to still be dangerous.
“It was players making plays today,” Harbaugh said. “That’s really what I saw — starting with Shea.”