There’s always the caveat, and that has to come first.
Western Michigan was the victim of an onslaught Saturday afternoon. The Broncos are a middling team in a middling conference with a defense that, after two weeks, we can safely call outright bad, and an offense that never really stood a chance.
It was Chase Winovich who provided that caveat after the game, nearly teetering over the edge of PR-friendly quotes.
“This is my personal opinion, I thought they were pretty predictable in the stuff they did,” Winovich said. “Their offense, I think, going into the game — I’d have to go back and watch — but I felt like they came in and basically said, ‘Whatever happens, we’re just gonna try to not give up that many sacks.’ Lot of max protection, lot of chipping on both sides. That’s a way to play football. Just, obviously, you see the results. I think they had like 200-something yards of offense. I just think, they were, well, I’m gonna stop myself.”
Western Michigan is the kind of team that Michigan is supposed to beat down at home in September. But 49-3 is 49-3. And if you’re nitpicking, good luck finding something to nitpick.
Shea Patterson wasn’t the biggest part of this game, but he was far and away the most important — at least as far as looking ahead is concerned.
[After THE JUMP: Why this is the case]
Last Monday, when asked about Patterson’s performance at Notre Dame it took four sentences before Jim Harbaugh mentioned how well he managed the game. To be clear, the Wolverines would happily take a strong game manager after last season. On Saturday, despite a modest 12-of-17 for 125 yards, we saw so much more than that.
Patterson, running to his left, found Oliver Martin near the sideline and deposited the ball into his hands — the kind of throw you reflexively think is incomplete because it’s so tough. Later on, it was Donovan Peoples-Jones on the receiving end of a corner route in the end zone that required a perfectly placed ball with the exact right amount of arc.
“We worked on (the concept) all week,” Patterson said. “And we have a slant outside, under, Nico Collins, trying to create the corner from the back of the end zone. (Peoples-Jones) ran a heck of a route, stem inside and then get to the back pylon. … It was kind of a routine throw.”
No, it wasn’t. But Patterson seeing it that way tells you all you need to know.
Again, perspective matters here — this was against Western Michigan, and a loss at Notre Dame probably says more about Michigan, and Patterson, than a home win against a Group of Five team. That said, the last quarterback the Wolverines had who could do stuff like that was … Chad Henne?
“The throw to Donovan probably stands out in my mind as the one that really puts an exclamation point on it, because it looked like a zero blitz — the all-out blitz, man coverage, no free safety — to start the play,” Harbaugh said. “And we thought we had really the right play called, we were bringing Nico (Collins) in from the outside receiver position from the boundary. And thought that was gonna be where the ball would go.
“And, as the play developed, I saw a linebacker drop off into that space. For him to calculate that, and then change the channel — if I was playing quarterback, that’s where I’d have been going with the ball (to Collins), reading the initial coverage. To change the channel, and go to the corner, and throw it to Donovan — make that split-second decision and then make that accurate of a throw — I mean, you’re really seeing things well.”
That’s a whole lot more than someone who manages a game well.
There are other aspects of Michigan’s game worth lauding — its defense was typically great, Karan Higdon played one of those games that makes you think he might have a solid NFL career in front of him, the Wolverines’ offensive line was atypically solid.
But two of those elements have been there for a while now. The third probably won’t show up against better competition. As for Patterson?
“In terms of how our offense played, and how Shea looked, I’d say it’s as good as any quarterback I’ve seen (at Michigan), personally,” Winovich said. And it was rare, just being on the sideline, they’re just scoring touchdowns. ... I just remember (Josh Metellus) sitting there. He’s like, ‘Man, this is nice!’ And I think the feeling is mutual on my half.”
The Wolverines won’t play a game better than this, because it’s almost impossible to do so. Saturday was the 99th percentile — it’s irresponsible to come away thinking that’s indicative — or even close to indicative — of what Michigan, or Patterson, will be.
We did get a glimpse of what Patterson can be though — and not just when the Broncos were easily beatable, letting Nico Collins take the top off their defense like it was a tupperware container.
“Second week in a row, so thought he was more in the (groove), more in charge, and look to expand that next week,” Harbaugh said. “He’s ascending.”