The reactions from Michigan players after Shea Patterson's arrival said a lot
CHICAGO — Jim Harbaugh did not want to announce any quarterback news at B1G Media Days on Monday, so I’ll make an announcement for him.
Shea Patterson is going to be Michigan’s starting quarterback in 2018.
Sorry Brandon Peters supporters, but barring injury, this isn’t going to be the down-to-the-wire battle that Harbaugh is making it out to be. Of course, neither Harbaugh nor anyone on Michigan’s roster is going to come out and say that. Quite frankly, they don’t have to. They can continue to tout the improvement in the quarterback room until Harbaugh inevitably puts Patterson in for the first play on Sept. 1 against Notre Dame.
But my question in Chicago had nothing to do with whether or not Michigan players believe Patterson will start. What I wanted to know was how they reacted upon hearing word of his decision to transfer from Ole Miss to Michigan. That is, how did they feel about a guy who was being compared to Johnny Manziel last year announce that he was attempting to fill Michigan’s glaring need in the Harbaugh era.
Ok, I didn’t exactly phrase the question like that.
Still, it was something I felt was worth asking the three Michigan players who were chosen to represent the program in Chicago. As I found out, each of their answers were telling in their own right.
They shed some light on where Michigan has been, and where it hopes it’ll be going.
Patterson was well on his way to becoming a household name in 2017, despite the fact that he played for an Ole Miss team that was staring at a bowl ban.
He became the first SEC quarterback since the aforementioned Manziel to throw for 400-plus yards in consecutive games. In the seven games he played (really 6.5) before going down with a season-ending knee injury last year, Patterson was on pace for 29 touchdown passes and 3,873 passing yards in a 12-game season. Average out his 10 career games over a 12-game season and he’d have 28 touchdown passes and 3,767 yards with 8 yards per attempt.
Despite Patterson’s productive college start, not everyone was familiar with the former 5-star recruit when he committed to Michigan.
“I didn’t know who he was,” Michigan defensive back Tyree Kinnel admitted. “I heard the media. Everyone was talking about this Ole Miss quarterback that wore No. 20.”
That’s not too far-fetched given that Michigan and Ole Miss haven’t even had any crossover opponents since Patterson’s career began.
I asked the same question to Michigan running back Karan Higdon — did you have any reaction when you found out Patterson was coming to Michigan? I got a similar response.
“No, not at all,” Higdon said. “For me, I gotta see a player practice and play before I can give him a mutual respect with whatever the hype is.”
Wait. So 10 games at Ole Miss — seven of which were against SEC defenses — wasn’t enough for you to evaluate him on?
“It’s a different offense,” Higdon said. “Coming from a spread offense to a power offense is two completely different things.”
That’s a fair point. To say that Harbaugh and Matt Luke run the same system would be like saying Michigan fans and Ole Miss fans are the same breed of human. They aren’t. Harbaugh’s pro-style system obviously isn’t loaded with run-pass options like Patterson ran with the Rebels.
FOX college football analyst Joel Klatt
Of course there would be some skepticism from Michigan players about how Patterson would perform learning a new way to operate. But how new will it be?
Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich had an interesting answer when I asked him about Patterson’s development in the “new offense.”
“I can’t make these decisions, but I can say that Coach Harbaugh has definitely become more open in a sense that he’s willing to make necessary adjustments to ensure that Shea is going to be in the best possible scenario,” Winovich said. “If he has to run more of a spread offense…I don’t know this for a fact and this isn’t a conversation I had, I would be surprised if (Harbaugh) didn’t work the offense around whatever things fit Shea best or whoever’s the quarterback.
“That’s just what I’ve noticed more and more with Coach Harbaugh’s mentality is that he’s slowly coming around to trying different things and figuring out something that works.”
It’s easy to forget that Harbaugh implemented plenty of run-pass option looks with Colin Kaepernick when he turned around the San Francisco 49ers. At Michigan, that’s obviously been a different story, though it’s not like Harbaugh has had the personnel to do that. Now, he certainly does with Patterson.
One of the things Higdon said about Patterson was that so far, his mobility has been impressive. His ability to make plays outside of the pocket was what sparked the Manziel comparisons at Ole Miss. And as far as his ability to sling it?
“He’s on a dime,” Higdon said.
It’s not a secret that in limited action so far, Patterson has lived up to whatever expectations there were for him. Harbaugh didn’t say much of anything about Patterson on Monday, other than that “he got great work in” during spring practice and that he “played really well.”
Kinnel did say that while he might not have known who No. 20 from Ole Miss was, Patterson made a few plays in practice that left a lasting impression. Quickly, Kinnel learned what the buzz was about.
“When he got here, I got to meet him. He’s a good guy off the field. I got to see him play because obviously you hear all the hype about him, you want to see him play,” Kinnel said. “I got to see 15 practices of him and he’s doing good. He’s legit.”
Winovich was the only Michigan player I spoke to who didn’t seem like he was in wait-and-see mode to determine if Patterson was “legit.” The defensive lineman told the story about how he and Patterson were hanging out before the Outback Bowl and Winovich was debating whether he should return for his senior season at Michigan.
“I went to Shea and said, ‘Hey, look. You come to Michigan and I’ll come back,’” Winovich said.
That was before Winovich even knew if Patterson would be declared eligible by the NCAA. Now, we know that Patterson won’t have to sit after transferring because Ole Miss is facing a 2018 bowl ban.
Winovich said that if he returned, he wanted to make sure that the offense “was in good hands” and that it made improvements. Patterson coming on board seemed to signify that. Even though Winovich said he isn’t the one who decides who starts at quarterback, that doesn’t sound like someone who is expecting Patterson to ride the bench in 2018.
In a way, the three different reactions to Patterson’s arrival embodied the national reaction. There’s definitely not a unanimous opinion on his impact, though it’s worth noting that certain sports books like Bet DSI announced it took the Michigan starting quarterback odds off the board because of the action on Patterson.
Maybe it’s that Patterson struggled against Alabama and LSU or that he didn’t play for a team that made it to the postseason. Michigan’s lack of quarterback success during the Harbaugh era is a definite contributor to the skepticism. Some might cite ESPN’s former top impact transfer in college football, John O’Korn, as a reason to pump the brakes on the Patterson hype train.
Others, like Winovich, know that Patterson is different than any quarterback during the Harbaugh era.
I talked to FOX college football analyst Joel Klatt about whether Patterson can be the game-changer at quarterback that Harbaugh’s been lacking since his Ann Arbor arrival. “No question,” Klatt said. He offered up some more perspective on that.
“Shea is the best quarterback that (Harbaugh) has had since Andrew Luck. Period,” Klatt said. “People in these neck of the woods are drastically underestimating the impact he could have on the conference.”
Patterson will spend the next few months proving himself to his teammates and to a coaching staff that’s done nothing but try to squash the buzz surrounding his arrival.
But once he hits the ground running in South Bend, there’ll be no slowing him down.