A year ago, rumblings of uncertainty trickled through Schembechler Hall. As spring practices began for the Michigan football team, the program found itself wondering whether the NCAA would grant quarterback Shea Patterson’s request for immediate eligibility following his transfer from Ole Miss.
On April 27th, 2018, word came in that Patterson would be eligible to take the field in the fall. With that, the program celebrated the end of a convoluted process, and arguably its first victory of the 2018 season.
Just a few months later, the junior quarterback’s performance helped propel Michigan to a 10-3 record and a national ranking that peaked at No. 4. Patterson threw for 2,600 yards and 22 touchdowns on a 64.6 completion percentage while tossing just seven interceptions — all improvements from the 2,259 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions he threw as a sophomore at Ole Miss in 2017. Patterson added 273 rushing yards on the ground, many of which can be attributed to the offense’s successful implementation of the read option.
But the most impressive part of Patterson’s junior season didn’t lie in his numbers — rather, it was the football IQ he flexed by adapting to Jim Harbaugh’s West Coast offense so quickly. After playing in a Pro-Spread scheme at IMG Academy and Ole Miss, Patterson had to adjust to huddling between plays and the presence of a fullback in his first season as a Wolverine.
But now that Harbaugh has “handed the keys” of the offense to first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, Michigan will be ditching its previous West Coast system for a faster Pro-Spread scheme.
Now in his second season at the helm of the offense, Patterson feels as comfortable as ever in the new system. And to the pleasure of the team’s coaching staff and Patterson’s teammates, his comfort has given way to leadership.
“(Patterson) is acing the offense right now,” said junior tight end Nick Eubanks. “That’s who most of the guys go to if they need help with the concepts of the offense. He’s a lot more comfortable. This is his offense.”
A number of players around the offense are familiar with the Pro-Spread scheme from their prep school playbooks, but nobody on the roster is more accustomed to seeing Patterson’s abilities within the system than sophomore center Cesar Ruiz, Patterson’s high school teammate at IMG Academy.
So far this spring, Ruiz has seen Patterson make plays reminiscent of their days in Bradenton, Fla.
“It’s kind of cool,” Ruiz said. “I see it on film, and I see those flashes, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I remember seeing him do stuff like this before.’ ”
Two years after Patterson’s graduation from IMG Academy, the duo was reunited in Ann Arbor. This spring, their familiarity with Gattis’ system has made them ideal teachers for their teammates. After establishing himself as a communicator on the offensive line a season ago, Ruiz is primed for an even more vocal role in the no-huddle offense.
“(Ruiz) is a quarterback for us,” said offensive line coach Ed Warinner. “The things that he does are amazing in terms of his communication of how we run our offense. A lot of teams have their quarterback do that — we take a lot of load off our quarterback and have (Ruiz) do it.”
Under Gattis, the Wolverines will need as many communicators as they can get. While the team has the ball, its sideline will be dominated by signals, decoys and, presumably, confusion. For Patterson and Ruiz, it’s nothing new.
“Shea’s been doing a really good job understanding the installs,” Gattis said. “And really, when you look at the depth of that quarterback room, we’ve got a lot of guys that have played a lot of football. … Now it’s about catching those guys up within the offense. The terminology is different, these guys have had to learn it, and Shea has done a really good job.”
It appears the perfect storm has taken shape in Ann Arbor for Patterson’s senior year. A year after taking the reins of a program coming off a disappointing five-loss campaign, adjusting to a new school and playing in an unfamiliar offense, Patterson has found a home.
This year, excitement bounces off the walls of Schembechler Hall during spring practice despite an offseason of turnover within the coaching staff. There’s a noticeable buzz about the modernization of the offense and Patterson’s ability to “ace” it. It’s a far cry from last season’s uncertain sentiment, to say the least.