Piscataway, N.J. — Even as the wind was gusting and swirling in the first half, Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson adjusted and made throws.
Tough throws. Throws across his body. Important third-down throws.
Patterson was 18-of-27 for 260 yards and three touchdowns in three quarters of fourth-ranked Michigan’s 42-7 victory at Rutgers on Saturday. He has helped lead the Wolverines into the national conversation as they’re now 9-1 overall, 7-0 Big Ten and atop the East Division standings.
“Just does everything you ask him to. You ask him to throw the ball, he throws it,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game. “That was a really tough night to throw the ball. That reminded me of my days back in (Chicago’s) Soldier Field playing in some of those windy conditions. He made some throws that were just unbelievable, put in the right spot with the wind blowing, swirling.
“The throw he made to Oliver Martin on the run was great. The ones to the left, the third-down conversions — and also our receivers did a great job catching the ball. It was not an easy night to catch the ball. There were tough elements there. Our guys have continued to really do a good job catching the ball. It was really impressive that way. It’s not going to be an easy night to move the ball offensively. Rutgers was doing a good job containing our run game.
“The offensive line and protection was really terrific all night. All those things were really good. The throw and catch part was really difficult in this game. Our guys did it as high a level as you can do it in terms of throwing the ball and catching the ball.’
Patterson had touchdown passes of 36 and 10 yards to Nico Collins and, with plenty of time to throw, found Martin in the end zone on a 16-yard completion.
He has 187 yards rushing on 51 carries this season, but Patterson did not run against the Scarlet Knights. That might have been an effort to protect him now that backup quarterback Dylan McCaffrey suffered a broken collarbone last week. It would be unwise to have Patterson taking unnecessary hits.
Instead, Patterson displayed his strong arm, at times having to throw into the challenging wind, and his accuracy, not to mention his athleticism. Harbaugh said being able to make some of the throws Patterson makes is innate.
“He looked as good as he’s ever looked in the pocket,” Harbaugh said. “Not panicking. Moving subtly to get to the quiet spot. There’s drills for sure, things you coach. You do the same drills with some guys and they don’t ever get it, and you do those drills with guys who really have the spatial awareness and the feel and the innate ability and they can get really good.
“He’s gifted. He’s really gifted in that area.”
Patterson transferred to Michigan from Ole Miss last December and after months of work behind the scenes filing a waiver appeal to the NCAA, Patterson earned immediately eligibility. He won the starting job just a few weeks into preseason camp.
And since then, he has helped push the Wolverines into Big Ten and national playoff contention.
“He’s made a world of difference for us just with his play-making ability and his presence in the huddle and simply just how the throws the ball,” tight end Zach Gentry, who had three catches for 42 yards, said. “He puts in the right spots, he makes good decisions, only has a couple picks on the year. He’s made a world of difference for us.”
Gentry arrived at Michigan as a quarterback, so he has as that extra insight into what is required of the position and what Patterson does so well.
“He’s a creator,” Gentry said. “He creates things when things are getting broken down. He makes those plays all the time in practice. We’ve seen him doing some pretty amazing stuff, scrambling and throwing the ball like you saw tonight. He’s definitely got a lot more (to show).
“The thing that’s rare with him, it’s hard for a quarterback to throw across his body while he’s rolling out. He does it so effortlessly. He’s got such a strong arm, and he puts it in the right spot. It’s pretty amazing.”
Patterson made six third-down conversion completions, three in the second quarter and three in the third. Among the highlights, on third-and-7, he fired a 36-yarder to Collins, and in the third quarter he converted on three third-and-longs with passes of 21 yards to Gentry, and passes of 32 and 26 yards to Donovan Peoples-Jones.
To his credit, Patterson is humble and quickly deflects praise. He credits the offensive line for keeping him protected and after the Rutgers win, he described how well the receivers made catches despite the windy conditions.
What he is experiencing now is what he envisioned when he transferred to Michigan at the end of last year.
“I was just fortunate enough to join a group of guys like this, who push me every single day,” Patterson said. “I’m so proud to be part of this thing. It’s so cool to see our progression every single week.”
Patterson quickly acclimated to his new teammates and vice versa during spring ball and, later, the team’s trip to Paris.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a team that’s been this close,” he said. “We all care about each other so much, but the one thing we really do a good job of is not getting distracted by where we are now and don’t let that distract us from where we want to be.
“So each and every week we approach it with the same mindset and that’s work hard every single day in practice. This guy will make plays on defense and everything else will take care of itself on offense.”
He spoke to reporters after the game with defensive end Rashan Gary standing to his right. Gary described how much Patterson has helped the nation’s top-ranked defense improve every day in practice.
“You can’t fluster him,” Gary said. “In practice I like talking, and I’m in his ear chirping, but it doesn’t seem to faze him. Actually, when he first got here, it was on a roll-out pass, and I thought I had him, but he put on the jets and got to the sideline, threw a touchdown.
“I don’t feel like I’m going to go against another quarterback like that all year. He’s been getting us ready as a defense to play games like this and practice hard. So having Shea as my quarterback, I’m happy.”