When the Irish and Wolverines meet
under the lights after dark in Notre Dame Stadium on September 1st, all eyes will be on the quarterbacks. Brandon Wimbush’s flashes of brilliance and periods of mediocrity have been the subject of many thousands of words since he was replaced by Ian Book in the Citrus Bowl. This piece, then, will try to shed some light on what awaits the Irish on the other side of the ball — specifically, what Shea Patterson brings to the table, and what sort of performance we might expect from him.
A five-star recruit coming out of high school, Patterson was the #1 pro-style quarterback in the country, per 247Sports, while Rivals considered him the #1 dual-threat at the position . With offers from just about everyone but the Browns, the 6’2” 205 lb. prospect eventually landed with Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss.
In his ten-game career as a Running Rebel, Patterson was a mixed bag. In short, he eviscerated moderate to bad defenses, and ran into trouble against competent (or better) ones. In his career, Patterson is 238/392 (61%) for 23 TDs and 12 INTs. Nothing eye-popping, but they’re respectable numbers, so let’s get a little more granular and look at some individual games:
- Patterson’s first start came on the road in a 29-28 upset of #8 Texas A&M back in November of 2016, turning in a 25/42, 338 yd, 2 TD, 1 INT performance in place of the injured Chad Kelly. The Aggies finished the season with the #40 ranked S&P+ defense, so let’s file them under “respectable competition.” (The rest of the year was a house of horrors for Ole Miss — blowout losses to Vanderbilt (38-17) and Mississippi State (55-20) kept them out of a bowl game.)
- In 2017, Patterson was absolutely smothered by Alabama, as one might expect — 48% completion, 165 yards, 2 picks and no TDs. As the #1 S&P+ defense, we can safely say they represent “elite competition.”
- The next week facing Auburn, Patterson put together a more impressive performance against the #5 S&P+ defense — 34/51 for 346 yards and 2 TDs, although it is worth noting that the Tigers led this one 38-3 midway through the 3rd quarter, and Patterson picked up about 200 of those yards in what was essentially extended garbage time. Still, “elite competition”, so what can you do?
- Probably Patterson’s best game came against Vanderbilt, in which he threw for 350 yards and 4 TDs on 22/35 passing. The defense he carved up, however, was ranked just 67th in S&P+.
- The closest comparison we’ll get to Notre Dame in terms of S&P+ defense rank (#27) was actually LSU (#18). Patterson left this game with an injury that was the impetus for his transfer to Michigan – but not before throwing 3 INTs on 10/23, 116 yard passing in a game the Rebels lost 40-21.
- If your defense most closely resembles South Alabama or UT-Martin, though, you’re probably out of luck. Patterson tore each of those teams up for at least 400 yards and 4 TDs.
The logical question, then, is what sort of defense will Notre Dame trot out on September 1st?
This Irish defense has the personnel to be one of their best in years, particularly in the secondary. Last year they fielded the #27 S&P+ defense, and with even moderately improved safety play (read: literally one interception) from the likes of Alohi Gilman and Houston Griffith, I think we can expect an upward trend in that department. I will repeat the refrain of Irish fans from ages past: if the pass rush can show up (paging Dr. Kareem, Khalid and Mr. Okwara, Julian) and force Patterson into some uncomfortable throws, I think the Irish have a very good chance to limit his performance.
Final word: The Irish hold Patterson under 275 yards, and he throws 2 picks.
How Brandon Wimbush and the rest of a significantly re-tooled Irish offense perform against the vaunted Michigan defense is a topic for another post, but I don’t think the Wolverines have a world-beater under center.