It was the type of play Michigan fans have seen end horribly over the last decade.
Junior quarterback Shea Patterson, with the pocket collapsing, retreated to his right and was immediately confronted by angry defenders. Rather than trying to throw it away or just taking the sack, Patterson compounded the risk by doubling back, unsure of what he might find.
For the past 10 years, bad things. Only bad things have been found when a Wolverine QB chose that option.
Patterson found an open sophomore receiver, Donovan Peoples-Jones, just a few plays removed from getting a bad luck penalty and his bell rung, and Patterson threw a pinpoint pass on the run which Peoples-Jones finished off with his legs to make it 27-7. Michigan would cruise home from there.
“It was just instinct,” Patterson said of what Coach Jim Harbaugh would later call the “whirlybird play.”
“The receivers did a good job of getting open for me. It’s what I’ve been doing since I was a little kid. I was just trying to get out and make something happen. I take pride in that. When stuff breaks down, I go make a play.”
“I loved that. I loved that,” Harbaugh said, repeating himself for emphasis. “That was just a great, instinctive play by Shea.”
The play was the highlight of Patterson’s best game as a Wolverine so far. He finished 19-for-27 for 282 yards and three touchdowns, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. One 50-yard scoring bomb was called back due to holding, and another pretty touchdown pass to Peoples-Jones was ruled just barely out of bounds. The junior QB artfully picked apart Maryland’s defense on a day that was supposed to feature the running games. Inch-perfect passes, recognizing coverages and blitzes–throwing into them, Patterson showed a diverse arsenal on Saturday. An eight-yard scramble belied his rushing potential.
“He throws really well in the pocket,” Harbaugh said. “He’s really good when he gets outside the pocket, too. I think he’s really growing and playing better and better every week. There were players making plays out there today, starting with Shea (Patterson).”
Much has been made of Harbaugh’s relationship with his quarterbacks over the years, but at least for now, Harbaugh and Patterson seem to be clicking.
“We’re more and more comfortable and confident with each other,” Patterson said about his cantankerous head-man. “They’ve (the offensive coaching staff) been around for a long time with a high level of success. We go through the game plan and throughout the week, see what we’re comfortable with, see what we want to go with.”
These types of quarterback performances were exactly what Michigan was missing last year and could be the difference between the Wolverines claiming a successful season or not.
Sophomore center Cesar Ruiz took notice:
“He does some amazing things out there on the field. Him being able to make those kind of plays, improvise when things get crazy and make a play out of it, it’s amazing. I like that in the offense,” Ruiz said.
Patterson takes his escapability seriously. It was revealed after the game on Saturday that he does drills with the running backs, defensive backs and receivers.
“He’s a dynamic player,” senior running back Karan Higdon said. “He’s been making plays like that time and time again since he’s gotten here. It’s not a shock to us. It’s amazing to play with someone like him. He works out with us, a lot, doing drills to get his footwork just right, and it shows. He’s able to pick his feet up and put them down, get out of tight windows.”
The windows are about to get tighter.
The Wolverines will now gear up for the most difficult portion of the schedule. Wisconsin comes to Ann Arbor next week, then it’s off the East Lansing, then Penn State pays Michigan a visit. Three weeks later the Wolverines will head to Columbus.
But Patterson isn’t fretting:
“We’re ready. We’re ready to go.”
After a performance like that, millions of Michigan fans are, too.