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 question: 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 and 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?
SEAN KEELER: TAKE THE OVER
He doesn’t have to be Russell Wilson. But Shea Patterson has the goods — the feet, the arm, the swagger, the maturity — to come awfully close, and right out of the gate.
In this system, surrounded by this much talent, 21-ish touchdown passes feel more like the floor than the ceiling. And we’ll give you three reasons why:
1. Shea Patterson’s qualifications
First off, we’re presuming good — or at least reasonable — health, and no significant time lost. Never a sure bet with a quarterback who likes to scramble for time in the pocket or with an offensive line that leaked last fall like a Beltway cocktail party.
No. 2 piled up 17 touchdown passes in just seven appearances in 2017 for Ole Miss and 23 over 10 games with the Rebels as a freshman and sophomore. That said, 11 of those 23 came in three tilts against non-SEC foes. And South Alabama (4 touchdown passes) and Tennessee-Martin (5) were layups compared to what awaits Patterson in South Bend in the season opener.
So maybe a pace of 2.3 touchdown passes per game isn’t realistic with a schedule that features Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State, and ou-Know-Who on Nov. 24. But if we take Patterson’s lifetime SEC pace (1.7 TD throws per game), add it to the overall clip (2.3 per game) and split the difference, you still wind up with 2 scores per contest.
So that’s safely in the 24-25 range, if Patterson is upright. A big if, granted.
2. Jim Harbaugh’s résumé
OK, so let’s start by throwing out the 2017 season, when things behind center opened weird and only got weirder — especially on the injury front — as the autumn wore on.
In 2015 and 2016, Harbaugh quarterbacks averaged 20.5 touchdown throws, and that was with Jake Rudock and Wilton Speight doing most of the slinging.
Patterson’s skills, if he’s half as good as his YouTube reel, allegedly are superior to both. Heck, the scouts say No. 2 is the most talented collegiate quarterback under Harbaugh’s wing since Andrew Luck was firing darts at Stanford.
In Luck’s last two seasons with Harbaugh, the big Texan averaged 22.5 touchdown throws and wound up as a Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2010. When The Quarterback Whisperer is serving filet mignon, historically, everybody eats.
3. The Tao of Jim McElwain
Imagine a healthy Tarik Black. Picture a motivated Donovan Peoples-Jones. Throw in an emerging third option such as, say, Oliver Martin.
The buzz on the street is that the Wolverines’ wide receiving corps under McElwain, their new position coach, has been making strides throughout the spring, even if only because there was no place to go but up.
It takes two — three if you count pocket protection — to make a pitch-and-catch combo work. But if you do your job on the receiving end, when a quarterback can do this on the run …
— CFBonESPNRadio (@CFBonESPNRadio) November 13, 2016
… the rest usually takes care of itself.