After an offseason of anticipation and excitement, first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis put his new system to the test in Saturday night’s Michigan football season opener.
Results didn’t come immediately. On the game’s first play, quarterback Shea Patterson kept the ball for a 15-yard scamper up the middle. But to the Wolverines’ dismay, the senior coughed up the ball on his way down to the turf, gifting Middle Tennessee State a possession and, more importantly, the jolt of early momentum every heavy underdog craves.
The next drive, which lasted 11 more plays and covered 37 more yards, showed more promise before ultimately tanking in the red zone. Kicker Jake Moody put Michigan on the board with a field goal, but the possession’s feeling of failure loomed nonetheless — particularly after a pair of end zone shots to Ronnie Bell fell incomplete. The ensuing drive ended with a punt following a third-down sack.
Despite the underwhelming first three drives, Saturday night’s offense had an entirely new feel from the get-go. The up-tempo, RPO-based Pro Spread scheme was, indeed, a major departure from Harbaugh’s traditional West Coast style. Even without Donovan Peoples-Jones, Patterson and the receiving corps looked comfortable. The offensive line cracked on occasion, but kept pace with the tempo nicely.
It took the Wolverines four drives to find paydirt, which eventually came from 36 yards out when the Blue Raiders lost Tarik Black on a deep fly route. Patterson didn’t waste any time throwing his second touchdown, finding Nico Collins for a 28-yard score on the very next series. Two drives later, Patterson found tight end Sean McKeon for another 28-yard touchdown.
By the end of the first half, Patterson had already racked up 25 passing attempts — his exact per-game average from a season ago. With volume came production, as he completed 16 of those throws for nearly 200 yards and a trio of touchdowns. By scrapping the huddle, Gattis practically doubled the speed of the offense — all without his top wideout or calling a single undergun snap.