History made — and stopped — in Michigan’s rout of WMU

by | Sep 9, 2018 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

Mark this down. History was made — and stopped — Saturday afternoon at the Big House.

First the stop. Facing Western Michigan, under a milky white sky, Shea Patterson dropped back in the second quarter and heaved the ball 44 yards to the end zone, where it was caught by receiver Nico Collins.

Until that moment, it had been 364 days since a Michigan wide receiver caught a touchdown pass.

Read that again. Nearly a full year. Twelve games? More than 720 minutes of football? That’s depressing. I know Jim Harbaugh prefers the running game. But 364 days? That’s not a drought. That’s the Sahara.

So first things first, Michigan fans should celebrate the halting of that bleed — and a later Patterson TD pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones, and a fourth-quarter TD toss from backup Dylan McCaffrey to receiver Jacob McCurry. Three scores to wide receivers? Open the floodgates.

“I honestly wasn’t aware of that stat,” Patterson admitted after U-M’s 49-3 drubbing of the Broncos. “But I know as a team right now…we’re really not focused on last year.”

History made for Shea

Why should he be? He wasn’t even here last year. Besides, the second piece of history, the one that was made, involved Patterson himself. And it was much more inspiring.

The kid who grew up dreaming of playing in Ann Arbor, whose father was once a U-M season-ticket holder and reportedly told bedtime stories about Shea leading the Wolverines to a Big House victory, actually got his chance on Saturday.

Four months shy of his 22nd birthday, Patterson, the junior transfer, finally ran out of the famed tunnel for a game. That may be the longest a Wolverine starter ever waited for that.

“I can’t describe the feeling,” Patterson said. “It was kind of emotional, but exciting as well.”

Harbaugh, who’s had that rush as a player himself, took a bird’s-eye view. “I was running behind (Patterson) coming out of the tunnel (because) I wanted to see what he was going to do. When he touched the banner…he kind of went up and did the reverse dunk. He had a little sugar on the flakes.”

Sugar on the flakes. The same could be said of Harbaugh’s offense, which scored seven touchdowns Saturday, versus one in last week’s defeat. And there was enough sugar on the running game to qualify as Halloween candy.

Against Notre Dame, the Wolverines ran 33 times for 58 yards. Against Western: 35 times for 308 yards. That’s pretty much the same amount of tries, but 250 yards more.

“What do you attribute the improvement to?” Harbaugh was asked.

“The players,” he said.

The opponent, said nearly everyone else.

How do you measure this win?

Look, the riddle of college football schedules is always the same: when a team doesn’t look very good in its opener, does that mean it isn’t very good? Or that it just wasn’t ready? Or that the opponent was on a different level?

Such is the conundrum that faced Michigan, which looked ill-prepared at times against Notre Dame, slow on blocks and squeezed on rushing offense for much of the 24-17 defeat.

But Saturday, in the home opener, the Wolverines couldn’t be stopped. They created holes and ran through those holes, and they plowed enough ground yardage that play-action passes gave them plenty of time. Karan Higdon had a wildly productive rushing day, 13 carries, 156 yards and a score. Chris Evans, who goes hot and cold, had one of his hot games, 10 carries, 86 yards, squirting ahead twice for touchdowns.

And Patterson? Well, he certainly looked more controlled than in his debut, when he was often cramping and losing yards running. He throws a tight ball, sees the field well, and is really impressive passing on the run, something you usually hate to see a quarterback doing. His across-the-field touchdown to Peoples-Jones required the perfect trajectory.

“High-level stuff,” Harbaugh said, admiringly.

But if Wolverine fans were hoping to see Patterson heaving it left and right, forget it. He threw just 17 times, only a few of them deep. He finished with a pedestrian 125 yards.

Harbaugh believes in running first (and sometimes second). He has always been that way. Even in the pass-crazy NFL, Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers were almost always amongst the top rushing teams in the league.

U-M must keep piling up rushing yards for its passing game to thrive. The offensive line looked better than last week. Then again, this Western team gave up 55 points to Syracuse.

So it’s all relative. But Saturday’s win, after four straight losses dating back to last season, was a welcome relief. “It just felt good to get a W,” said lineman Chase Winovich, part of a defense that strangled Western all day.

Look. You know how this goes. All Michigan wins will be taken cautiously until one comes on the road against a ranked opponent. Meanwhile, you celebrate your little histories, the ones you make, and the ones you stop.

Let’s face it. Three hundred and sixty-four days is a long time without a wide-receiver touchdown.

Then again, it’s less than a year.

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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