Gattis’ presence felt in sideline play-calling debut

Football

It came against the Big Ten’s doormat, but it was about as good of a performance as you can ask for coming off a humbling loss.

In Michigan’s blowout win over Rutgers (1-3 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) on Saturday, there was a new face on the 20th-ranked Wolverines’ sideline: first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. The rookie play-caller made his decisions from the booth during the team’s first three games — a trio of underwhelming performances from an offensive standpoint.

But against the Scarlet Knights, Gattis brought palpable energy to the sideline as he called the shots and, as a result, Michigan (3-1, 1-1) looked like a well-oiled offensive machine as it piled on 52 points.

“(Gattis) is on the sideline in every practice everyday,” senior quarterback Shea Patterson said. “(It’s) something we’re used to. He’s without a doubt the leader of our offense. We all trust in him.”

On Saturday, Gattis decided enough was enough of being an absent leader. The former player in him kicked in, vaulting him to the sidelines and bringing out the animated side that his players rave about.

Patterson spearheaded a well-rounded bounceback effort, completing 74-percent of his passes for 276 yards, a passing touchdown and three rushing touchdowns. Four receivers surpassed the 50-yard mark despite barely playing in the fourth quarter, while the offensive line provided ample time to throw.

“(Patterson) was really good,” said junior wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. “Every assignment that he did, he did really well today. … Everything was going right, from the protection to the great balls the QB delivered.”

Granted, we’re still talking about that doormat’s defense here, but the Wolverines didn’t look nearly as crisp against Middle Tennessee State, Army or Wisconsin. Mindless turnovers cut 10 drives short in just three games, keeping Gattis’ unit from finding its identity through most of September. Execution was poor, penalties piled up and the offensive line struggled at times, shining the light on some big-picture question marks surrounding Gattis’ scheme.

That changed with Gattis on the sideline in the heat of battle. In a near-perfect representation of everything Gattis drummed up in the offseason, Michigan took care of the football, put its best players in a place to succeed and posted a season-high in almost every statistical category, most notably a near-absence of miscues.

U-M’s lone turnover came when Patterson slightly under-threw a 50-50 ball to Nico Collins down the sideline. The poor throw on a vertical attempt into single-coverage was an aggressive mistake, unlike the careless fumbles that Michigan has otherwise suffered through.

Like Patterson, Harbaugh quickly noticed the positive impact of Gattis roaming the sidelines. When the offense huddled on the edge of the field before each series, it was Gattis driving the discussion with Harbaugh lurking in the shadows.

“Everything was better,” Harbaugh said when asked about Gattis’ presence on the sidelines. “Communication was better. It was a good move — glad we did it.”

With Gattis on the field, substitutions flowed well and play calls were clear. And, as indicated by a lopsided final score, execution followed suit. The going will get tougher as the schedule gets more difficult in the coming weeks, but all signs point to a good move at this juncture.

Michigan had to try something new after last week’s disappointment, and it might’ve hit a home run with this tweak.

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