Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson might have been a player many fans knew nothing about coming into the 2020 college football season. But as we reach the end of it, his name must be mentioned to tell the complete story of the year.
Patterson, a junior, captured the sport’s attention on Nov. 28 against Kent State when he tied the FBS record for rushing touchdowns in a game with eight and had the second-highest single-game rushing total with 409 yards in a 70-41 victory.
He’s come a long way since a visit to Eastern Michigan as a high school sophomore, when his twin brother, James, found him in a bathroom on campus crying after being the only one on their recruiting visit to not get an offer. Now Jaret Patterson is one of the best players in Buffalo history, alongside guys such as Branden Oliver and Khalil Mack.
Big games are Patterson’s specialty
As a senior at St. Vincent Pallotti High School in Laurel, Maryland, he did a little bit of everything in a 2016 game against Riverside Baptist, accounting for 558 all-purpose yards, an interception and two forced fumbles.
“You can ask anyone in the Maryland area,” Patterson said. “They know this game.”
His talent translated seamlessly at Buffalo. In 15 of the 28 games in which he has carried the ball 11 times or more, he has run for over 100 yards. And in more than half of those, he has run for at least 160 yards.
In 2019 — a season in which he ran for 1,799 yards and 19 touchdowns, as well as compiling 209 yards receiving with another score — he went on a rushing and scoring outburst playing Toledo and Bowling Green. Against the Rockets, Patterson had 227 scrimmage yards and five touchdowns; taking on the Falcons, he had 298 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
“Just in those two games, that’s 11 touchdowns. That’s a whole season for some,” he said. “This is not a fluke.”
There’s being a good football player, and then there’s being overwhelmingly good. Patterson is often the latter.
In the 2019 Bahamas Bowl, he ran the Bulls to the program’s first bowl victory with 173 yards and two touchdowns against Charlotte.
“The fourth quarter came around and them guys were just tired and we imposed our will,” Patterson said.
He recalled Charlotte coach Will Healy approaching him after the game, impressed, and saying, “You just get stronger as the game goes.”
Postgame and even midgame praise has become the norm for Patterson. Either between plays or going up to the line of scrimmage, guys from both Bowling Green and Kent State have yelled for him to stop running the ball or even suggested the Bulls pass instead.
“They know it’s coming, but they have to stop it at the end of the day,” Patterson said. “Sometimes they can’t.”
Patterson went into the game against the Golden Flashes looking for revenge. When the two teams played in 2019, the Bulls were up 27-6 in the fourth quarter, only to allow 24 unanswered points, including a game-winning field goal as time expired to lose 30-27. Patterson ran for 141 yards in that game.
Early in the 2020 matchup, Patterson knew he was going to have a good game, but he didn’t know how good.
“The first couple of touchdowns I was untouched,” he said. “I’m talking about the holes were so big, you could drive a truck through there.”
At halftime, Patterson said he had a moment when he stopped and knew he was doing something big.
“I didn’t know the amount, but I knew I was running pretty well and I scored a lot,” he said.
A lot of college football fans were upset when Bulls coach Lance Leipold pulled Patterson before he could break the touchdowns record. After the game, Leipold said, “I didn’t even know he had eight touchdowns. I wish I would have known a little bit.”
Patterson became aware of what he had done only after he was taken out of the game, and he said he didn’t have any hard feelings about not getting the record. Patterson and Leipold have even joked about it since.
Patterson even labeled that game as “easy,” crediting his offensive line.
“Without those guys up front, I don’t run for 1,000 yards in five games,” Patterson said. “That’s unheard of. Even the perimeter receivers, everybody plays a part in this. The long runs you see, guys straining to finish defenders, everybody plays a part of this.”
He added, “I don’t see no better line than them guys and what they did. I feel their résumé speaks for itself.”
Awards or not, Patterson knows he’s one of the best RBs in the country
In a season in which rules have been made and thrown out the window, one thing that hasn’t changed is Patterson’s ability to put up statistics at a rate overwhelming for defenses. And he put up his 1,072 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns in just five games, something he continues to point out when making his case for why he should be in these awards conversations.
“Just the way I did it, it was different from the others,” Patterson said. “Not taking away — them guys definitely put up numbers themselves — but just the way I did it back to back. Guys aren’t scoring eight touchdowns and running for 300 yards back to back. But I think the two biggest things are just the short games and how late we started. I think that’s why I should be a contender for sure.”
Since all Heisman votes will have been cast by the time Patterson gets a chance to play on Christmas Day, his Camellia Bowl stats won’t contribute to his case. But he’ll still be playing with that chip on his shoulder for the rest of his career.
“If it’s coming back in the fall, or going to the NFL, I’m still going to have that chip, I’m still going to be the same player,” said Patterson, who turned 21 this week. “Nothing’s going to change. That’s something I stick to, that’s my morals, and regardless if it’s at Buffalo or the next level, I’m still going to have that motivation to prove people wrong and myself right that I can be a great running back in college and at the next level.”