When Jim Harbaugh strode to the podium on Monday, he carried the demeanor of a man focused only on what was ahead of him, unwilling to admit distraction.
Harbaugh was asked about the offensive struggles, about where his team had improved over the bye week and where it needed to improve further. He was asked about ball security and the challenges of playing Wisconsin, and none of this would be notable if it didn’t carry a certain air to it — a connotation that Michigan would be in an uphill battle on Saturday. Then things got more direct, with a reporter asking about the feeling of being a Vegas underdog. Harbaugh barely gave a cursory stare.
“That’s irrelevant,” he said.
So, a day later when the normally soft-spoken senior quarterback Shea Patterson took his turn, it was unsurprising when he, too, fell back on platitudes in the face of those same questions.
But after 10 minutes of being lobbed questions connoting a challenge, giving little benefit of the doubt to what Patterson was saying about the offense letting loose, maybe his patience wore a bit thin. He was asked how close the Wolverines are to showing the world what they’ve seen in practice — an offense that can fire on all cylinders.
“Uh, what is it?” Patterson asked in response. “Three-and-a-half, four days?”
Indeed, from Tuesday night when Patterson spoke, it was four until gameday.
“Yeah, we’re gonna go out there and make a statement,” Patterson said. “Simple as that.”
And despite the obvious hedge — winning on the road at Wisconsin, a top-15 team in a venue the Wolverines haven’t walked out of with a victory since 2001 would be a statement unto itself — everyone knows it isn’t that simple.
A statement would be following up on what we heard all spring and summer about this offense. It would mean going in and showing everyone what this unit — a senior quarterback with three NFL-caliber receivers, should Donovan Peoples-Jones return, a top-50 recruit at running back and an offensive line chock full of returning starters — can do when it’s rolling and when its coordinator doesn’t get gun-shy.
Patterson is, literally and figuratively, often a quiet figure with recorders thrust into his face. That does not mean he lacks confidence. He hasn’t since fifth grade, when his dad coached him. “It was a little rough at first,” Patterson said. Yet here he is.
“I’m very confident and that comes with the guys around me,” Patterson said. “How can you not have confidence in yourself when you have our O-Line and unbelievable targets outside and a hell of a defense behind you?”
It’s a good question, and really the only answer is to point to the last two weeks. The offense turned the ball over, unable to hold onto it. The defense gave up points when it got put in bad situations. Even when they kept the ball, the Wolverines played with timidity and struggled to move the chains. Michigan nearly lost to an unranked Army team at home.
Do that against Wisconsin and the Wolverines won’t walk out so lucky.
Patterson knows that, and so does everyone else in Schembechler Hall.
“We haven’t been playing the best football we can play and we know that,” said senior safety Josh Metellus. “We got guys in this building who, potential, like way up here. We’re not reaching that.”
The only news there is that Michigan is publicly acknowledging what everyone can see. Make the kind of statement Patterson talked about and the conversation will quickly turn back to where it was two weeks ago, all about Big Ten titles and College Football Playoff berths. As many questions surround the Wolverines now, narratives change fast. Statements aren’t made in the quiet comfort of your own practice facility.
“I’m done talking about it,” Patterson said at the end of his session Tuesday, walking away from the group of reporters.
It’s time to show it.