The Michigan Wolverines offense has been one of the most potent in the Big Ten this season. Outside of the loss at Notre Dame and close road win against Northwestern, that team up north has cruised to victories. They hung 56 on Nebraska, 42 on Penn State and Maryland, and 38 on Wisconsin.
Between a run game led by running back Karan Higdon, and receiving corps paced by Donovan Peoples-Jones and Zach Gentry, the Wolverines have the making of a team that could make the College Football Playoff.
But against Ohio State, the success of the UM offense will likely be on the shoulders of a graduate transfer. It’ll all come down to how well quarterback Shea Patterson plays. If he does well, the Wolverines will be able to feed their receivers with receptions, and Higdon will be able to balance things out on the ground; if Patterson stumbles, that could be all it takes for the Wolverines to miss out on yet another Big Ten East crown and CFP berth.
Why the pressure on Patterson? Well, he’s the catalyst for everything.
So far this season, he’s connected on 65.9 percent of his passes, resulting in 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns. He ranks 17th in passing efficiency and 19th in pass completion rate. And he’s not done there. Within the Big Ten conference, he leads in average passing yards per completion, collecting 12.96 yards per. Basically, each completion he makes is enough to move the chains.
Patterson’s best game this season came against Maryland, where he went 19-of-27 for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Even in games against Northwestern and Wisconsin, where he threw for less than 150 yards, he was still connecting on over half of his passes.
It also makes sense that he’s being noticed by the numerous award groups. Patterson has been named a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Award, given to the best quarterback in college football. He’s also picked up a top-10 standing for the Johnny Unitas Award, and has cracked the watchlist for the Maxwell Award, which is, arguably, the second most important individual trophy in college football behind the Heisman.
He’s not that big of a threat on the ground, but he has taken off when needed. This season, Patterson has 255 yards on 60 attempts. His biggest rushing games this season came against Wisconsin and Indiana, last week’s opponent. Against the Badgers, Patterson had a season-high nine carries for 90 yards, with one of those rushes going for 81; against the Hoosiers, he had nine carries for 68 yards.
Recently, Ohio State’s approach to short yardage situations have been revolving around a QB zone read. Whether it be Dwayne Haskins or Tate Martell, that option has proven potent. Michigan’s been doing the same thing with Patterson — and at times with backup QB Dylan McCaffrey before he got injured against Penn State. Against the Nittany Lions, Patterson was used in the zone read, and waltz untouched into the end zone for a touchdown.
If Michigan has goal line situations, keep an eye out for Patterson because the play is gonna run through him.
So this brings us to the big question: how does Ohio State stop Patterson and the Wolverine offense? First, it would help if the Buckeyes actually played defense. The Maryland game exposed holes (once again) in the pass defense and linebacking. Additionally, the Terrapin performance proved another issue: the more east-west you run against OSU, the better chance you have at getting to the edge and taking off for a big gain.
If Patterson can find Peoples-Jones and company for completions, that sets up Higdon on the ground. Just like Urban Meyer stressed throughout the season, there is importance in having a balanced attack. A balanced UM offense will make it a virtual guessing game for the Buckeye defense. Things get a lot harder when you don’t know where the ball is going.
Again, look at last week’s escape against Maryland. When running back Anthony McFarland wasn’t on the field breaking the Buckeye defense, the running game from UMD was nonexistent. When he checked back in late in the fourth quarter, guess what happened? Maryland put together a scoring drive. Granted, a couple of big pass plays helped, but you’ll need both parts of the offense to click if you want to take down Ohio State.
Just like for OSU, they’ll need Haskins and J.K. Dobbins/Mike Weber to perform well.
This will be a hard hitting game, as it always is, and there’s going to be a few make-or-break plays for each side. Last season, all Michigan needed was a functional QB and they would’ve had a very good chance at bringing down the Bucks in Ann Arbor. Instead, they had John O’Korn at QB — and he ended up making some unbelievably bad throws.
Patterson might be the first real QB for Jim Harbaugh since his arrival at Michigan. I wouldn’t count on Patterson to have the yips against the Buckeye defense, especially with the way that OSU has played on defense since the Purdue loss. But, if the Buckeyes can get pass rush and force a couple of big turnovers, that is all the momentum they’ll need in 2018 edition of The Game.