Shea Patterson's Peach Bowl performance showed why he made the right call to return in 2019
If you were in the crowd who thought Shea Patterson should stay for his senior season at Michigan, Saturday was Exhibit A.
Patterson had of course already made the announcement that he was returning ahead of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. That meant the New Year’s 6 Bowl was an opportunity to continue to develop his rapport with the likes of Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black.
To Patterson’s credit, he did that to a certain extent. The big plays early on to Collins showed that chemistry, and the spot Patterson put that fade in the end zone to Peoples-Jones was what Michigan fans were hoping to see.
But instead of Saturday feeling like the launching point for Patterson’s 2019 Heisman campaign, it felt more like a reminder that he has plenty of room for improvement in 2019.
As much as some — myself included — were in the fence about Patterson’s NFL draft decision after the Ohio State game, it was clear on Saturday that he’s not ready for the NFL just yet.
It took Florida’s defense to really drive that point home.
Sure, Patterson would’ve benefitted from having 1,000-yard rusher Karan Higdon alongside him. And had Michigan been at full strength defensively instead of missing future first-round picks like Devin Bush and Rashan Gary, that game could’ve gone differently.
What that wouldn’t have changed was Patterson’s obvious shortcomings. They’re still the same issues that Patterson had throughout his first season in Ann Arbor.
The inability to diagnose and handle pressure continues to be an Achilles’ heel. In hindsight, facing Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s famed “Third and Grantham” probably wasn’t the best matchup for the Michigan quarterback. While Patterson wasn’t particularly bad on third down, he was sacked 6 times on Saturday.
For someone with his mobility, that’s baffling.
The game is still not slow enough for Patterson yet. Not all of those sacks were on Michigan’s offensive line, which didn’t play particularly well, either.
But something that’s entirely on Patterson was the struggle to read coverages. Early in the third quarter, Michigan was driving for a potential go-ahead score. With a clean pocket on first down, Patterson took a chance on play-action. What he thought was single coverage was anything but that.
Instead of a 1-on-1 matchup, Patterson fell right into the trap of future NFL cornerback Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who played center field perfectly and hauled in the interception:
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson with the clutch INT 🐊 pic.twitter.com/5SRHFmavOm
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) December 29, 2018
That play, in a game that was a defensive struggle to that point, completely flipped the momentum. And just in case Gardner-Johnson didn’t do enough with that play, he took a tipped pass back for 6 the other way to deliver the final dagger.
So what did Saturday show? That Patterson is never going to be “the guy?” I didn’t say that. I still like the arm strength, accuracy and mobility.
But if nothing else, Saturday should have a lasting impact this offseason. Maybe losing the final 2 games like that will light the fire and a year from now, we’ll look back on this stretch as the thing that helped Patterson get to that next level as a player.
Who knows? Perhaps Patterson, now with a home in Ann Arbor, will be able to see his weaknesses and focus in on them instead of rehabbing from an injury/learning a new offense/dealing with the NCAA over his eligibility. There’s something to be said for that.
Nobody is making excuses for Patterson anymore, though. Expectations were and will continue to be high. That’s par for the course for someone who was a 5-star recruit and among the preseason Heisman candidates.
Saturday didn’t dismiss what Patterson did this year. He kept Michigan in the top 10 and in the hunt for a Playoff spot for the vast majority of the season. After that humbling opener against Notre Dame, he made strides with big-time performances in that 3-game stretch against Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. He deserves credit for that.
But if Patterson is going to be a starter in the NFL, it’ll be because he improves in those key areas next year. And if that happens, Michigan’s odds of finally getting over the hump and into a B1G Championship will increase as well.
It’s a good thing that Patterson will get 1 more year to put it all together. After what we saw on Saturday, it’s now clearer than never.
He needs it.