IU wary of the legs of UM’s Patterson

Every Tuesday and Thursday, Indiana defensive end James Head Jr. starts practice with the same drill.

As part of the “takeaway circuit,” Head ends a simulated pass rush with arms swimming, ready to slap a football out of the quarterback’s hand.

The sophomore’s next move was second-nature once he bent around Penn State’s left tackle on Saturday, spotting the No. 14 on the back of Sean Clifford’s jersey.

“I just knew, stick my arm out, do something,” Head said. “I felt myself running past the quarterback a little bit, so I just said ‘Do something. Stick your arm out.’”

The sack-fumble by Head during IU’s loss at Penn State was evidence of a young, talented player living up to his promise. But defensive coordinator Kane Wommack will point to that play for another reason.

It was one of the few times where the Hoosier defense won a one-on-one matchup in their rush to the quarterback.

As Wommack’s unit looks ahead to No. 12 Michigan, they are happy with the three sacks and six quarterback hurries they racked up on the Nittany Lions. They are proud of their efforts at the point of attack on first and second downs, in particular, putting PSU into some uncomfortable situations.

But all too often, when the Hoosiers needed a play to get off the field, they couldn’t find it. Penn State was able to convert 7-of-14 third-down plays against IU. Many times, it was Clifford slipping through pass-rush lanes, burning the first wave of blitzers and finding expanses of grass totally abandoned by the Hoosiers’ man-to-man coverages.

Michigan’s Shea Patterson can run, too. He just runs with a different intent. Where Clifford scrambles hard upfield, Patterson uses his legs to extend plays behind the line of scrimmage, scanning downfield for a passing target.

Wommack would know. His dad, Dave, used to be the defensive coordinator at Ole Miss, where Patterson started his college career. As the d-coordinator at South Alabama, the younger Wommack faced Patterson’s Rebels before he transferred to Michigan in 2018.

“Certainly I was a much bigger fan when he played with my dad at Ole Miss,” Wommack said. “Now he just seems to be a pain in the tail.”

How to contain the legs of a quarterback is at the top of Wommack’s mind right now, because the Hoosiers are actually doing quite well combating the other parts.

As a defense, IU has held opposing offenses to a completion percentage of 50 percent or less six times this season. Northwestern and Penn State connected on 42.6 percent of their passes (23-of-54) in back-to-back weeks.

On the other hand, Northwestern and Penn State’s quarterbacks combined to rush for 109 yards on 23 carries in those contests. That’s a per-carry average of 4.7.

“I think we’ve done some great things with the pressures we’ve built and we’ve gotten people free,” Wommack said. “But, other times, we’re not going to get somebody free and we are going to have six one-on-one matchups, and we have to win one of those six matchups and create pressure on the quarterback.

“This is not a discredit to Shea, but he’s like most quarterbacks. If you can pressure him — not necessarily hit him, but if you can pressure him and get him moved off his space — I do think his accuracy goes down. … (But) you have to be careful of where you push him because he can extend plays and drives outside of the pocket.”

Patterson does have at least one gain of 10 yards or more in six contests this season. But as a rusher, he’s only picked up 81 yards on 69 carries. His focus remains through the air, where he’s racked up 2,157 yards, 16 touchdowns, and just four interceptions.

Wommack compared Patterson’s game to another college football great, Texas A&M alum Johnny Manziel.

“He does a great job of keeping his eyes downfield and looking to extend plays to throw the ball, not to scramble and rush,” Wommack said. “In terms of Sean Clifford, you knew when he pulled the ball down, he was going to go and try to get vertical.”

Clifford did just that on his 38-yard touchdown run in Saturday’s first quarter. Micah McFadden, the Hoosiers’ sophomore linebacker, took the blame for that one.

He slipped and fell.

IU can’t make things so simple for Patterson.

“We can’t just let him make those big plays, give him easy runs like that,” McFadden said. “Whether it’s a game plan thing, whether it’s here and there where we are designing one guy to spy him, or a defensive end is containing him, we have to figure it out. And we’ll get it right this week.”

IU will continue to be aggressive defensively, blitzing. Pass-rushers like Head will continue to take aim at the quarterback, looking to win their one-on-one matchups.

But they have to be disciplined in how they approach things.

“You just have to go back, you learn from it, and you adjust it, and we are already making some adjustments in things that we do … because Shea Patterson is a very good athlete,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “He can run it as good as anybody that we played the whole year. So that won’t change this week.”


  1. I want to whip their ass, selfishly. I’m tired of the general public and some of our own fans still questioning how good this team is. They are good! I’d also like to see Harbaugh squirm lol. Go Hoosiers!!!

  2. JPat I am with you about Michigan and the quality of our team. IUFB has been down so long many just can’t believe it is improving. Yes this year has broken right for the Hoosiers as far as the level of B1G teams but in the past IUFB would be figuring on four or five wins for this season.

    I hope coach Wommack puts a better athlete spying the QB as Ziemba is a good player just not athletic enough to stop a QB with running ability. IU’s offense can show once again they can score against any defense left on the schedule. I hope the defense comes out on fire and the offense scores early TDs to take a lead Michigan can’t come back from. If IU’s football team continues to improve this season could be a 9 win season heading into the bowl game. The exciting thing is how good the team could be in 2020 and beyond.

    1. What do you think about RT as a spy? Has the quickness and as a former QB might be able to think like Patterson a little.

  3. Didn’t you guys get sick to your stomachs during all those times Crean would bring the Harbaugh clan to IU Basketball games?

    Where was your Harbaugh animosity back then….? Gosh, I don’t remember hearing any when all were in Crean apology mode.
    Now that Crean is gone, some football bandwagon(ers) suddenly despise Harbaugh. Comical.
    I always saw the family relationship (Crean & Harbaugh) it as a real conflict of interest …and almost an impediment to our football program (e.g. Harbaugh using our high television viewership ratings/dollar generating abilities in basketball to get his mugshot on camera …and, thus, promote Michigan football. Our struggling basketball program(while Michigan was going to Final Fours) was providing free advertising for Michigan’s football program/coach. Talk about insult to injury? I always saw it that way…Where in the heck were you guys back then?

    Note: Much of this is with tongue-in-cheek …so please don’t get too worked up. But geez…..Where were you dudes?

    1. Me? I was not writing about basketball on a football board, that’s where. Come to think of it, I don’t write about basketball anywhere.

  4. I like the thought of RT being the spy on Patterson and then be able switch up having Cam Jones on him with RT dropping into coverage. Confuse Patterson yet have talented athletes responsible for tackling him. Wommack has tried Ziemba spying QBs in games and it hasn’t worked no matter how athletic he thinks he is. At PSU McFadden had the QB responsibility but fell down but McFaddin isn’t the most athletic guy coach can use.

    Have a great plan for UM’s offense and let IU’s offense do enough to win the game. IU has the ability with this team to beat UM and I am not sold that UM has turned the corner as much as playing teams that aren’t as good as advertised. Don’t think for a minute that UM isn’t thinking about the upcoming game against OSU and looking past IU. I hope IU jumps all over them from the first of the game especially after Patterson video came out.

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