While Ohio State earned a 31-20 win over Michigan last year in Ann Arbor to extend its rivalry game winning streak to six years in a row, it might have been a different game if the Wolverines had better quarterback play.
John O’Korn completed just 17 of 32 passing attempts for 195 yards with one touchdown and one interception in last year’s edition of The Game, missing several wide-open throws and failing to take advantage of mistakes made by Ohio State’s defense.
This year, however, the Wolverines have had stronger quarterback play – their strongest quarterback play in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure as head coach – with the arrival of Shea Patterson, which will increase the challenge of playing Michigan this week for Ohio State’s defense.
Ranked as one of the nation’s top recruits in the class of 2016, Patterson spent two years at Mississippi before transferring (and receiving a waiver to play immediately) this season at Michigan, where he has completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns with only four interceptions while also running the ball for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
While Patterson’s career at Ole Miss didn’t quite live up to the hype that surrounded him coming out of high school, Harbaugh says Patterson has made a huge difference for the Wolverines this year.
“He’s been tremendous. In all ways. Whatever you ask him to do, he executes it, and does it a really, really high level,” Harbaugh said Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference. “He’s got the ability, and he’s got that win-it factor, that I believe some athletes, competitors have more than others. I can’t say enough good things about him.
“He’s just a terrific ballplayer, and great teammate too. Just that kind of guy that’s always intense and focused at practice, but doesn’t make it all about him, and does a great job of being a guy that’s really respected. Because he respects his teammates, he respects the game and everybody has confidence in him. So yeah, we’re lucky, lucky, lucky to have him.”
Patterson is both a more gifted passer and a more effective runner than the Michigan quarterbacks Ohio State has faced the past three years – O’Korn, Wilton Speight and Jake Rudock – and as such, the Buckeyes’ defense will need to be sharp in both areas.
Ohio State has won several games this season in spite of poor defensive play, including a 52-51 overtime win at Maryland last week in which the Buckeyes gave up 535 yards, but Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer has already acknowledged that they must play better on that side of the ball in order to win this week, and Patterson is one reason why.
Buckeyes defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones said Patterson reminds him of Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, who had a field day of his own in Ohio State’s 27-26 win over the Nittany Lions earlier this year, when he threw for 286 yards and ran for another 175 against the Buckeyes.
“His running and throwing ability is pretty good,” Jones said of Patterson. “I feel like in the past years, they haven’t had a running quarterback like him, so he creates another dynamic we have to worry about.”
Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland said Patterson “just has a knack for making plays.”
“I think when the play’s not exactly how it’s supposed to be or something’s not right, he just figures it out and just kind of improvises,” Borland said.
Ohio State defensive tackle Davon Hamilton also said he is impressed by Patterson’s competitiveness.
“He’s a great player,” Hamilton said. “He’s more of a competitor than anything. We really got to prepare for him. We respect him very much.”
“I think when the play’s not exactly how it’s supposed to be or something’s not right, he just figures it out and just kind of improvises.”– Tuf Borland on Shea Patterson's playmaking ability
Passing the ball still isn’t Michigan’s strongest suit. The Wolverines are ranked just 87th in passing yards per game this year, and Patterson has yet to have a 300-yard passing game in maize and blue. Defense has been the driving force in Michigan’s 10-1 season so far, while the running game is the strength of its offense.
Combined with those other strengths, though, Patterson adds another dimension to the Wolverines that could make them the toughest test Ohio State has faced in the rivalry game yet since Urban Meyer became the Buckeyes’ coach in 2012.
Now, Patterson is looking to do what O’Korn, Speight, Rudock and Devin Gardner before them could not – beat Ohio State.
He knows that will be a challenge, but he’s looking forward to the opportunity.
“I know, and everybody in the locker room knows, how much it means to us in this building and everybody, really, who supports Michigan,” Patterson, a Toledo native, told reporters this week. “So just got to prepare every single day.”