After shaky season start, are Shea Patterson and Michigan good enough to win Big Ten East?

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Shea Patterson walked up to the edge Tuesday evening, then backed away.

“I’m done talking,” the Michigan quarterback said with a grin, excusing himself from a circle of reporters in Schembechler Hall. Just prior to that, he said the Wolverines are “looking to go out there and make a statement” against Wisconsin on Saturday. Patterson stopped himself from getting too specific about what that statement might be, knowing that he was on the brink of offering up some prime bulletin-board material for the Badgers.

But he was tempted. He was close. Because he clearly believes we are going to see the best version of Michigan football this season on Saturday.

The Wolverines need to be good in Camp Randall Stadium, a place where they last won in 2001. They need to be far better than they were in muddling past Army and Middle Tennessee State to open the year. As arch rival Ohio State sprints out to an electric start with a new head coach and new quarterback, the veteran team many predicted would take down the Buckeyes in the Big Ten East is looking like Same Old Michigan.

“We’re not going to apologize for being 2-0,” Patterson said. “Simple as that.”

No apologies necessary, but some urgency will be. The Wolverines are facing an opponent that has allowed exactly zero points thus far in 2019. Their offense as a whole and Patterson in specific has to be better.

Shea Patterson and the Michigan Wolverines are 2-0 so far this season but haven't exactly impressed. Will that change against Wisconsin? (USA Today)
Shea Patterson and the Michigan Wolverines are 2-0 so far this season but haven't exactly impressed. Will that change against Wisconsin? (USA Today)

Patterson has lost as many fumbles as he’s thrown touchdowns thus far — three of each. His pass efficiency rating of 138.52 is down 11 points from last season, when the expectation was for it to jump up. After transferring from Mississippi and earning immediate eligibility, big production has not immediately followed.

Currently, the Michigan offense is 12th in the 14-team Big Ten in yards per play (5.15) and passing yards per game (226). The search for an offensive identity continues.

It doesn’t help that quarterback has been playing hurt. He suffered an oblique injury on the first play of the first game, and it limited both his range of motion and his threat as a runner — he has 10 yards on 17 carries thus far this season. Tuesday, Patterson crisply described himself as “100 percent” physically for Wisconsin.

An open date helped heal his body. We’ll see whether it heals the entire Michigan offense, which is getting left tackle Jon Runyan back from injury and maybe — we’ll see — playmaking wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.

After scoring 14 points in regulation against Army on Sept. 7, the Wolverines went back into the workshop through an open date to try and deliver on the promise of newfound dynamism in first-year coordinator Josh Gattis’ offense. But the week off from competition also provided more time for media critics, frustrated fans — and frustrated players — to dwell on the shaky showing against Army.

“It was a win on paper,” safety Josh Metellus said. “It wasn’t a win for us.”

That strikes a different tone from Patterson saying there would be no apology for being 2-0. Then again, Patterson is a cocksure guy, noticeably shorter than his listed 6-foot-2 height but possessing an abundance of confidence.

It’s a lifetime of quarterback confidence, really. Patterson joked that his self-assuredness was rocked a bit in fifth grade when his father was his coach, but not at all since. He’s been all over the map, literally, as a football player — growing up in Toledo, then playing high school ball in Texas, Louisiana and Florida. Add two colleges to the résumé in a winding journey that has taken him from being the No. 1 pro-style quarterback recruit in the class of 2015 to a looming question mark in 2019.

Is he good enough to lead Michigan to a Big Ten East title?

The Wisconsin game may provide the answer. If it doesn’t go well, it may be time for backup Dylan McCaffrey to get his shot.

Shea Patterson, for one, is absolutely sure it’s going to go well.

“I feel like we have a really good gameplan,” he said. “… We’re just going to go out there and let it loose.”

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