SOUTH BEND, Ind. — December 1, 2017, wasn’t a major day on the calendar at the University of Michigan. But the events that unfolded 781 miles to the south set in motion the lofty expectations the Wolverines carry into the 2018 season.
In Oxford, Miss., Mississippi was handed significant penalties by the NCAA, including a 2018 bowl ban, which prompted Shea Patterson to look elsewhere to finish his promising college career. The Toledo-born quarterback gazed toward his childhood school, an airplane with a Block “M” was spotted at a Mississippi airport, and Patterson was anointed as Michigan’s Chosen One.
“That was definitely a crazy time,” Patterson said.
Notre Dame defensive lineman Khalid Kareem sacks Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson.
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As the sun faded Saturday over Notre Dame Stadium, the shadows of Touchdown Jesus grew longer as Patterson bounced and hopped on the playing field. He warmed up with a purpose, an all-business stoicism that fit the situation: An opportunity to make an immediate statement in front of a primetime audience.
Poor offensive line play sabotaged Michigan’s chances in a 24-17 loss to Notre Dame. The run game couldn’t get established and Michigan’s receivers flashed an inability to consistently separate from defenders, two fundamental issues last season that returned against the Irish.
“There really weren’t any [communication issues],” Patterson said. “We came in and knew it was going to loud. We used silent counts the whole game, so there weren’t any issues.”
VIDEO: Shea Patterson
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Patterson completed 20 of 30 passes for 227 yards, with two critical turnovers — an interception and a fumble that sealed Notre Dame’s win. His rushing total was minus-21 yards because of sacks. Cramping on the humid late summer night forced Patterson to the sideline in the fourth quarter for parts of two series.
He didn’t deliver a vintage performance, with multiple mistakes of his own doing, but Patterson also didn’t get large quantities of help from the rest of the offense or what was thought to be one of the nation’s best defenses.
“Nobody really wants to start out like that,” Patterson said. “Our defense and special teams put us in really good situations to make something happen. I took a sack that put us out of field goal range, I threw a careless pick off my back leg, and at the end of the game, ball security is huge. I have to go back and learn from the tape starting tonight.”
Three-hundred fifteen days elapsed between Patterson’s final game at Ole Miss and his Michigan debut. In October, 2017, he felt something wrong in his knee. What originally was diagnosed as a sprain turned into a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Season done.
Patterson was 100 percent healthy in the spring, taking part in drills and offering his first glimpse of a skill-set that elicited plaudits from teammates and coaches. He was unremitting during the summer months and brought the same principles to fall camp, proving efficient enough for the normally unforthcoming Jim Harbaugh to name him the starting quarterback two weeks before the season.
"With every quarterback you try to do the things he does really well,” Harbaugh said Monday on his radio show. “Shea does a lot of things well. It’s opened up the playbook even more.”
There isn’t a “C” on Patterson’s chest, but he already commands attention in the locker room. Patterson carries himself with a quiet swagger equal parts confidence and proud. Combined with his talent, it’s easy to understand why teammates gravitate to him.
“I see a composed leader who has been through some hard games, who has played in a tough division, and wants to win,” senior receiver Grant Perry said. “He came here to win and lead, and he’s doing that.”
Sixty-five programs make up the Power Five conferences, and Michigan ranked below 50 in every crucial passing statistic last season — 62nd in touchdown passes, 61st in QBR, 59th in passing yards per game, and 57th in sacks allowed.
That’s just a sampling of the gory details. This showing won’t change a lot after the season’s opening weekend.
If you look up the word “exciting” in the dictionary and glance at all the synonyms, those are what’s used to tout Patterson’s exploits. He’s aware of all the promotion on his behalf, and he’s also grounded in reality — Patterson will be judged on wins and losses.
The current tally is 0-1, with a difficult remaining schedule now offering up the possibility of thriving in adversity.
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