Comparison of Michigan QBs over 50 years

Submitted by UMProud on November 13th, 2018 at 8:57 AM

Derrick Hutchinson authored a great article contrasting key statistics of Michigan quarterbacks over the last 50 years.  He included a great sortable table of quarterback statistics on a year by year basis.

One key metric, completion percentages, listed Shea Patterson as #1 (YTD obviously).  And #2?  Jim Harbaugh's 1986 performance.



November 13th, 2018 at 9:18 AM ^

Statistics don't lie - do they?   Seriously, he's having a great year.   Add in rushing yards and scrambling ability and that makes his year even better.

Rick Leach 1975 - ouch!  32% passing completion, 3 TDs, 12 Interceptions.  Granted, they didn't throw the ball much back in Bo's heyday.

Section 1.8

November 13th, 2018 at 9:55 AM ^

Well, the important stats from Rick Leach's four years as a starter were that Michigan won or tied 3 times for the Conference championship; he beat Ohio State every year after his freshman year, and he finished 3rd in the Heisman Trophy balloting (while getting ready to be drafted into major league baseball, as a two-sport All-American).  He set total offense records that would stand 

Typical Leach stat line would be from the 1976 Michigan-Ohio State game.  Leach was 0-6 passing on the day.  And Michigan dominated the Buckeyes, 22-0.

Compared to his predecessors, Leach was a really good passer, and set a bunch of Michigan passing records at the time, including the then-existing record for touchdown passes in a season.


November 13th, 2018 at 11:49 AM ^

Not really fair to judge Leach on his arm.  He was an option QB who threw the ball to keep defenses honest.  He ran for 552, 638, 375, and 611 yards in his 4 years as QB, including 34 TDs.  But by his JR & SR years he became OK through the air.  He never had good accuracy, but he kept things around 50% and limited his INTs.  


November 13th, 2018 at 9:19 AM ^

Geesh - Rick Leach? Yikes!  On the flip side, i did not realize Harbaugh had high completion percentages, would have guessed they were closer to Leach's numbers.

Little shocked 25 TD's is the most thrown by a Michigan QB.

Gardner - imagine him on a well oiled machine of a team.  He would have put up some crazy numbers.

Shea has 4 games left.  He can rewrite a few of these.

Henne's total TD's over a career is going to be tough to beat at Michigan.


November 13th, 2018 at 9:35 AM ^

" Little shocked 25 TD's is the most thrown by a Michigan QB"

Take in to consideration how loaded we were at all positions in 1991.  Grbac could throw his usual poetry in motion connections with Desmond while Ricky Powers, Jesse Johnson and Tyrone Wheatley could pick up an obscene number of rushing yards.  Although, those passing touchdowns might have been even more for Grbac if Derrick Alexander wasn't lost for the season in the first game. 


November 13th, 2018 at 9:43 AM ^

Leach was a great athlete. And yes, in the 70's it was option football. The QB was as bigger part of running game and passing was an after thought.  Hard to believe now, but passing QB's avoided Michigan like the plague. It wasn't until Harbaugh (the player) that Michigan started this new "fandango" strategy offense called the forward pass as part of the game plan.  All kidding aside, if you ever read anything about Bo, it really wasn't until the 80's that he knew he had to evolve Michigan's offense. And yes, it was his assistants who pushed him.  It might have been Moeller and/or Carr.  Some of you Michigan officionados can pipe in and maybe clarify. 


November 13th, 2018 at 9:47 AM ^

Yeah, I still remember watching a MNF game during the late '80s and the broadcast crew was talking about how until Harbaugh, Bo had never had a QB taken in the NFL Draft.  Then several years later a story came out that Bo had been doing a home visit to one of the top college QBs the night of that game and Bo is sitting there in the kid's living room watching the game when that comes on.  I forget who it was (maybe Mirer?), but he didn't go to Michigan.  

Section 1.8

November 13th, 2018 at 10:04 AM ^

Except that it isn't even true.  People forget that Leach was drafted by the Denver Broncos but never played with them because he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and given an even bigger contract.

The quarterbacks that followed Leach were the mashup of B.J. Dickey, John Wangler, Rich Hewlett and then Steve Smith.  Until Harbaugh came along,


November 13th, 2018 at 10:41 AM ^

When Leach committed, he was hailed as the best passing QB that Bo had ever had.  And we were all thrilled at the wonders a legit passing threat would have for the option.  And that threat was largely true - teams were scared that he would throw it, so they backed off the option somewhat.  He ran a well-oiled offense that beat the crap out of teams.  But damn that Orange Bowl loss to Oklahoma!!


November 13th, 2018 at 9:30 AM ^

 Very impressive. He had 9 interceptions to 17 TDs last year. He had a lot more Yds in 7 games. He has only 3 ints (knock on wood) this year with a better completion percentage. 

He will definitely be one of the all time best if he comes back next year.

An interesting stat regarding his running is that he is doing way better this year than last year. Goes to show how well our OL is playing and how well Harbaugh has designed plays. 

Even with issues at QB last two years we took it down to the wire with OSU. I am even more confident with The Game now.


November 13th, 2018 at 9:36 AM ^

For what it's worth, I just saw something from a supposed "friend" of Patterson's dad. This individual's take was that Patterson wasn't coming back. Imhe, I want Patterson to keep on winning this year. I would much rather Michigan win the the whole shooting match, conquering even Bama. If that happens, however, I think it will raise Patterson's stock so much that he will become a first round pick, and leave this year. If Patterson leaving is the cost of winning the national championship, well that's a price worth paying.

As an aside, I think that Jim Harbaugh will be frank and forthright with Patterson. If he is ready for the NFL, I don't think Harbaugh would encourage him to stay.


November 13th, 2018 at 11:34 AM ^

Going makes a lot of sense as Finley and Herbert are about the only QBs I see in the first round of mock drafts and it seems every year there are at least 3 or 4 taken in the first. With a strong finish to the season, it's not out of the question, especially for teams with GMs that don't just go based on stats (Paxton Lynch, Manziel) or get suckered into reaching for somebody just to fill a void (Josh Rosen, Blake Bortles).


November 13th, 2018 at 9:30 AM ^

It was nice to run thru all those names again. Totally forgot about Steve Smith. 

Looking at that list it’s really hard to say who was or is the best. Patterson needs more time to add a little depth to these comparisons but no doubt, he’s very, very good. 

Its not just stats, it’s a leadership thing to. 


November 13th, 2018 at 11:00 AM ^

that is the key to me...the stats are a guide and give some valid points to compare, but if you look at the style of offense, the receivers, the line, the strength of opponent defense, it's hard to say Shea is 'the best' based on TD/int numbers. It does say a lot about his ability, accuracy, and how he's made plays. HE is infinitely better than Speight on so many levels. Patterson also has some incredible young receivers, a much improved offensive line, a MONSTER defense backing him up, great play calling, a system that has been improving, and the benefit of a down conference for the most part. Can't take that away from him, it's just timing.

Again, I am amazed at how easy he makes things look, I think he's truly taken on a leadership role he did not feel comfortable with early on. Thankful he's a wolverine for this year, not sure what he wants next year, and God bless him with whatever choice he makes...he's done his part here, and I think another season with all the guys coming back could be out of this world dominance...but I get it, and I also still feel McCaffery is the man in waiting once he's healed. It is important to future recruiting that Dylan is given his due, Milton a chance to expand...and Shea to get whatever he wants. All of them are a testament to this coaching staff and team of young men. It's win win for us.


November 13th, 2018 at 9:33 AM ^

I'm biased as hell here obviously  but give me a senior Ricky Leach (1978) all day long.  As Ufer called him "the guts and glue of the maize n blue" could not have been more fitting.  The dude was tough as nails, ran the option I offense unbelievably well and could throw when asked.   

Remember when you look at completion % that almost NONE of Bo's passing trees included anything underneath.  It was usually a two man route and 15+ yards downfield so no real opportunities to "pad" his stats with short stuff.  And because Bo seldom passed unless it was 3rd down Leach almost never had the opportunity to throw without the entire defense knowing it was coming.


November 13th, 2018 at 9:59 AM ^

I never saw Leach play, except baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays.  I did see Harbaugh, but was too young to really have an intelligent opinion.  But in my time, the handful of individual QB seasons that stand out (for different reasons) are these:

  • 1991 Grbac: I believe he led the nation in passing efficiency and, of course, was the QB throwing the ball to the Heisman winner.  Somewhat of a disappointing season with blowout losses to FSU and Washington, but that was really more on the defense (especially the FSU game).
  • 1997 Griese: Consummate game management performance.  Did not put up great stats but did all the  "little things," intangibles, etc. and was the definition of clutch.  
  • 2000 Henson: Led probably the most potent Michigan offense I've seen.  Might have been good enough for a national title if only Lloyd and Hermann ever would have taken the spread offense seriously.
  • 2011 Robinson: Great performance both running and passing, led team to 11-2 record and Sugar Bowl win  

Some other seasons worth consideration (since 1991): 2006 Henne, 2003 Navarre, 2010 Robinson, 1992 Grbac



November 13th, 2018 at 11:59 AM ^

I saw all of those seasons and Harbaugh was better than everyone on that list except for '91 Grbac.  '91 Grbac was unbelievable, except when the O-Line completely broke down (see the Rose Bowl)

Of course, Desmond had something to do with this!

Griese was consistently solid and a great game manager but didn't have the playmaking ability of either Grbac or Harbaugh.  Without the '97 defense Griese wouldn't have been able to win us shootouts IMO.  

Henson had more athletic ability than anyone but just seemed to not make a big play here or there when we needed him too.  Small sample size of course--he didn't get many big games to play in.

Denard was Denard.  Hard to compare him because he was basically Desmond Howard/Anthony Carter playing QB.  



November 13th, 2018 at 9:38 AM ^

It would be interesting to see this compared to usage, as most of these metrics decrease as usage goes up.  Due to our defense and running game, we haven't relied heavily on Shea throwing and we haven't put him in many bad situations.  He's definitely having a good season, but it's a stretch to call it the best season in 50 years.


November 13th, 2018 at 9:38 AM ^

Heres a fact,that even most die hard Wolverines fans did not know...

Jim Harbaugh 1985   QB passing efficiency rating of 157.9 was the highest in NCAA history

I think its still top 25 ,but passing games have exploded since 1985









*1983MichiganBig TenQB122540.0265.25.20083.7

*1984MichiganBig TenQB126011154.17186.55.035108.3

*1985MichiganBig TenQB1214522763.919768.79.1186157.9

*1986MichiganBig TenQB1318027765.027299.98.81011151.7



November 13th, 2018 at 12:03 PM ^

Harbaugh was actually incredibly underrated.  He finished 3rd in the Heisman voting.  He changed the QB position at Michigan forever IMO, dragging us into modern football.  

He's always been my favorite Michigan QB, though we have had a ton of amazing QB's after him, so you can't really go wrong.


November 13th, 2018 at 10:01 AM ^

I can still remember feeling like I was going to throw up when I read online that Henson had injured his foot in practice a few weeks before the start of the season. 

If he was healthy, he would have been able to pad his already impressive stats against Bowling Green, Rice and a 6 loss UCLA team that we had no business losing to. 

M go Bru

November 13th, 2018 at 10:02 AM ^

It was Wangler with Anthony Carter, not Harbaugh, who convinced Bo that a passing QB could be a lethal weapon. He suffered a knee injury in 1979 that minimized his running usage there after. That 80 team won Bo his first Rose Bowl!


November 13th, 2018 at 10:04 AM ^

Lost opportunities, Henson 2000, Gardner 2013.


I was a student during Harbaugh's time at UM. The uncanny thing about his playing, in my memory, was his ability to wait until the last second before a potential sack to pass the ball.  


November 13th, 2018 at 10:54 AM ^

I've never understood all of the Gardner-love.  Yes, a great rep of our university but never performed to his expected potential.  Was it due to coaching, lack of other talent?  At some point, we have to recognize that he just couldn't put things together and reach the next level.  College football has seen others succeed with less around them.