After Michigan’s first two drives, it looked like Shea Patterson simply didn’t have it.
The senior quarterback completed just three of his first eight pass attempts against Michigan State, totaling 39 measly yards. After giving up a fourth-down conversion and biting on a play action fake at the goal line, U-M stumbled into a one-score hole by the end of the first quarter. With the way Patterson was playing, it looked like another Mark Dantonio team would give the Wolverines a game in Ann Arbor.
When the trailing Wolverines took the field after Michigan State’s touchdown, though, Patterson flipped a switch. A game-defining switch. He completed 21 of his next 25 attempts for 345 yards and four touchdowns without throwing an interception. It was his first 300-yard performance since transferring from Ole Miss, and the performance broke Tom Brady’s record for most passing yards by a U-M quarterback against the Spartans.
Behind Patterson’s record-setting day, Michigan scored on all eight drives following a slow start en route to a 44-10 blowout victory.
“We had a good game plan all week,” Patterson said. “We had an extra bye week to prepare. … The plan wasn’t to pass the ball all game, but our guys were getting into open space and making plays.”
Patterson connected with nine different teammates on the day, but the man on the receiving end for much of his success was Ronnie Bell. The sophomore slot-man — once a basketball recruit — hauled in nine of his 11 targets for a career-high 150 yards, including multiple chain-moving grabs in big spots while the game was close.
Though Bell was U-M’s only receiver to eclipse the century mark, seven different Wolverines recorded receptions of at least 15 yards. One of the two who didn’t was tight end Nick Eubanks, who made up for it with a five-yard touchdown reception that gave Michigan a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Once the Wolverines smelled blood in the water, Jim Harbaugh’s group took full advantage. Even when U-M had already pushed the lead to double-digits, wideouts Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins each found the end zone.
“We just came out here and played a physical game,” Peoples-Jones said. “Sometimes in the rivalry game, tensions (go) up a little bit. … Everybody wants to make the play for the team and I think that’s what everybody individually wanted to do.”
As time dwindled down, true freshman wideout Cornelius Johnson got in on the action. He took a sideline grab on a designed run-pass option to the house for a 39-yard score, giving the Wolverines a 44-10 lead — one that would eventually become the final score.
When it came time for Michigan to trot onto the field in its victory formation, Harbaugh shared a moment with his quarterback. Just before leaving the sideline, he told Patterson not to let go of the ball after the clock expired because he wanted him to keep the game ball.
Patterson told him he had a better idea. Knowing how much the rivalry means to his head coach, Patterson trotted over to Harbaugh and gave him the game ball after kneeling the ball on the final play.
And as the Wolverines celebrated in the locker room after routing Michigan State by the largest margin since 2002, Harbaugh followed through on his initial intentions. He wandered over the Patterson’s backup, unzipped it and slipped the game ball inside.
After a performance like Patterson’s, that’s exactly where it belongs.