If Michigan quarterbacks manage to scrape together only 9 touchdown passes again this fall, we’ll eat your iPhone. Shea Patterson — assuming he wins the starting job — figures to elevate the Wolverines’ passing game in a big way in 2018. Which begs the questions: Just how big, and will it be big enough? Former Michigan and NFL running back Chris Howard and Land of 10 writer-columnist Sean Keeler pulled out their Ouija boards to try to project Patterson’s statistical impact …
Q: WE’RE SETTING THE OVER-UNDER ON SHEA PATTERSON PASSING TOUCHDOWNS THIS FALL AT 23.5. WHERE ARE YOU PUTTING YOUR MONEY, AND WHY?
CHRIS HOWARD: TAKE THE UNDER
Jim Harbaugh hasn’t determined who his starting quarterback for the 2018 season will be yet, but for most of the fans and us in the media, it seems like there is only one logical choice — and that’s Shea Patterson. Yes, we’ve all jumped on the Shea Patterson hype train, so no point in jumping off now. Only real thing left to illogically debate is how many touchdowns will Patterson throw in his first season as a Michigan Wolverines.
I’m taking the under and here are my reasons:
1. Michigan will always be a run-first team. Establishing the run game early and often is key. With running backs Karan Higdon and Chris Evans returning to the backfield, they should be one of the most lethal running back duos in the Big Ten this year. This may limit how many passing attempts Patterson has per game. Unless, of course, Michigan finds itself trailing in a game and needs to let Patterson wing it
2. Jim McElwain has his work cut out for him to make this wide receiver group productive. But with the kind of talent Michigan has at the wide receiver position, it’s what we call a high-class problem. Michigan is loaded with capable wide receivers that can make plays, but have they gotten better at the little things that will make Shea Patterson’s life a lot easier? It’s no secret that the wideouts found it difficult getting separation from defenders last season. Too many false steps and inability to read coverages really hurt the passing game last year. I expect that to be better, but seeing is believing.
3. What will the offense look like with Shea Patterson behind center? The key phrase here is “behind center.” Patterson has spent most of his career playing in a spread offense. His mechanics will be key to the success of his transition. Michigan runs a lot of straight drop-back play-action with crossing routes. During the drop phase, the quarterback loses eye contact with the defense but must adjust quickly to reassess the defensive formation once he comes out of his drop. Even though Patterson is listed as 6-foot-2, seeing the middle of the field will be crucial. Will Michigan adapt its offense around Patterson or make Patterson adapt to its offense?
4. The Wolverines will go as far as the offensive line takes it. The offensive unit was terrible in two very important categories in 2017: pass protection and tackles for loss. Michigan ranked 91st in tackles for loss, surrendering 83. The Wolverines’ pass protection, for lack of a better word, stunk. The Wolverines ranked 110th in the nation with 36 sacks allowed. If you want to know how a team with such promise goes 8-5, look no further than these two stats. As far as the sacks go, there is plenty of blame to go around. There were systemic breakdowns all over, and it only takes one guy to miss his block for things to go wrong. If Michigan doesn’t improve in these two areas, the offense will be doomed no matter who is playing quarterback.
Truthfully, if Patterson is the starter and is capable of doing half of what I saw him do at Ole Miss, this Michigan team could do something special.