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Michigan Wolverines Football Preview: A look at the 2016 defense

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While most of the attention leading up to the second year of the Jim Harbaugh era has been on what happens at quarterback and around the offensive side of the football, the real key to success lies on the other side.

Case in point — the 2015 season. As Michigan’s offense was wholly inconsistent, the one constant was Michigan’s ability to win games with its defense. It led to Maryland plucking defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin for its head coaching position and that means a new leader at the top of the defensive food chain in Ann Arbor.

Leading the way for this season will be Don Brown, who was at the helm of college football’s best defense in 2015 — Boston College. Hopes are high that his philosophy and coaching can help a different level of athlete at Michigan produce similar results to what BC did under Brown’s leadership.

Does Brown have the pieces to get that done in 2016? Let’s take a look at the state of Michigan’s 2016 defense.

 

Defensive Line

Few teams can lose its star defensive end to the NFL and not skip a beat. Michigan is one of those teams in 2016, with veteran defensive ends Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton back for one last season and top-rated defensive tackles Ryan Glasgow and Bryan Mone back as well.

Mone will be interesting to watch, as he returns to the starting lineup after suffering a broken leg last season. He showed up well in spring and should be a massive help in a loaded front four.

Given the veteran nature of the starters, the attention rightfully is placed on the depth behind them. There is plenty of experience at defensive tackle with seniors Maurice Hurst and Matthew Godin in the two-deep and having combined for 52 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season alone.

As for outside, expect to hear names like the nation’s No. 1 recruit of 2016, Rashan Gary, along with junior Chase Winovich and Lawrence Marshall often this season.

New defensive coordinator Don Brown’s defense is designed to be more attacking up front, and with a defense that had 32 sacks last season and finished fifth in the Big Ten there is plenty of potential for this group to be even better at getting to the quarterback in 2016.

Linebackers

All eyes are going to be on linebacker/all-everything Jabrill Peppers entering the 2016 season as he slides inside after a season of secondary play. It’s an interesting situation, as Peppers comes in to the season at just 208 pounds according to Michigan’s official roster. However, Peppers’ role is more about blitzing and playing in space at the line of scrimmage — and few things suit Peppers better than those roles on defense.

His ability to roam the field and not play a specific position persay is exactly what makes Peppers a unique player. The move also allows expected starters Ben Gideon and Mike McCray the freedom to do a lot of different things as well.

This group also has the experience and talent to be deep, and when Peppers plays an extra role in pass coverage, look for the likes of Michael Wroblewski and freshman Devin Bush to see plenty of action.

Secondary

Moving a stud defensive back like Jabrill Peppers to linebacker may seem crazy, but part of the reason for that move is due to the huge wealth of talent in said secondary. The 2016 group will be led by Peppers’ opposite number in 2015, cornerback Jourdan Lewis.

He has the potential to be the Big Ten’s best cornerback this season and may be the 1b to Peppers’ 1a in terms of overall athletic ability. Lewis is coming off an All-American season in 2015 and the trick will be to make opponents not direct the passing game to the opposite direction in 2016. That challenge lies with Peppers’ replacement, Jeremy Clark or Channing Stribling. Both are seniors and both have experience, with Stribling racking up four starts in his career and Clark having made 13 starts himself.

It’s a nice set of problems to have, but the depth and strength continues at the safety position with seniors Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill locked in to starting positions. Thomas made four starts last season, appearing in 10 total games, while Hill mad eight starts at safety and has 13 career starts at the position.

The questions come when you look beyond the top of the depth chart, with inexperience but plenty of potential existing in this group. Names like Tyree Kinnel and Keith Washington are going to get plenty of opportunities to showcase that talent in the two-deep of this secondary.

Our Projected Starters

DE: Chris Wormley, Sr.
DT: Ryan Glasgow, Sr.
DT: Bryan Mone, So.
DE: Taco Charlton, Sr.
OLB: Jabrill Peppers, Jr.
MLB: Ben Gideon, Sr.
OLB: Mike McCray, Sr.
CB: Jourdan Lewis, Sr.
FS: Dymonte Thomas, Sr.
SS: Delano Hill, Sr.
CB: Jeremy Clark, Sr.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Can Shea Patterson transfer finally be the answer at QB for Michigan?

Shea Patterson arrives at Michigan with pedigree and production, will it transform the QB position enough to matter for the Wolverines?

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There’s no way around it — 2017 was not the year everyone expected to see from the Michigan Wolverines. A one-time national title contender (no seriously) turned in to an 8-4 team that finished fourth in the Big Ten East division.

Many have pinpointed the issues at quarterback as a large reason for that struggle.

It would be an easy and correct assumption, as 2017 was an unmitigated disaster at QB for the Wolverines. Michigan’s quarterbacks combined to complete just 54.5 percent of their passes for just 2,023 yards and nine touchdowns to eight interceptions.

Yes, that was nine touchdowns in 12 games played by three different quarterbacks for Michigan in 2017.

Apparently the coaching staff believes that was a major issue as well, as they went hard after Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson once he announced his intention to transfer from the program.

On Monday, Patterson announced he would be enrolling at Michigan as a transfer.

We’ll have to wait and see if the NCAA allows him to immediately become eligible, but that shouldn’t be an issue given Ole Miss’ NCAA penalties. He doesn’t qualify as a soon-to-be senior, so he will have to apply for and be granted a waiver. That appears not to be a major hurdle, but one can never assume when it comes to the NCAA waiver decisions these days.

As for Michigan, Patterson is the second transfer quarterback Michigan has brought in during the Jim Harbaugh era. The first was John O’Korn from Houston.

O’Korn never took full control of the Wolverines offense, ending his career as the third option on the depth chart before being forced back on to the field thanks to multiple injuries at the QB position.

But, Patterson is not O’Korn — in so much as Patterson has actually proven to be a quality quarterback and isn’t transferring because he is being pushed out at his old school.

He threw for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns in seven games at Ole Miss in 2017, before suffering a season-ending tear to his right posterior cruciate ligament.

So, there is risk in bringing Patterson in to the fold. Will he be 100 percent back to normal in 2018 or will the injury keep him from progressing? That’s likely not an issue though, as the PCL tear isn’t the most significant of knee injuries. Additionally, Patterson comes with a great pedigree on the recruiting trail.

He was the No. 1 rated pro-style quarterback in the 2015 class, started and played in his freshman season in 2016 and did work in his sophomore year in 2017.

While this move may smack of desperation for Michigan, these are desperate times in Ann Arbor. The lack of championship football is starting to wear off the shine of Harbaugh’s hire four years ago.

It’s also a good move for depth alone, as Michigan will see both O’Korn and Wilton Speight out of the program. Speight has declared his intention to transfer already.

That would leave just Brandon Peters and Dylan McCaffrey on the depth chart.

Patterson has the experience and production advantage on both and the offense should be familiar to him as Ole Miss runs a pro-style offense.

Given the lack of production at QB since Harbaugh’s arrival, something has to change. Will Patterson’s addition be the change that is needed?

Clearly the quarterback position needs to get stronger. Adding Patterson does that, but it remains to be seen if it will be the transformational move that has been lacking since Harbaugh arrived.

If he can’t get the quarterback position right again in 2018, Harbaugh may not be long for the job everyone thought he’d have for a lifetime as long as he wanted it.

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Dantonio, Harbaugh jab at each other after bowl game selections

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Rivalries have no offseason, and that certainly is the case for Michigan State when it comes to in-state rival Michigan. That’s especially the case when bowl season rolled around in 2017.

That’s because Michigan is headed to Tampa Bay to play in the Outback Bowl, while Michigan State is off the…gasp…horrific site of San Diego for its bowl game.

No. 16 Michigan State is slated to play No. 18 Washington State in easily the best non-New Years Six bowl game the Big Ten has, while Michigan gets South Carolina. Despite the disparity in location and quality of opponent, some felt the Spartans were slighted.

Dantonio was asked if the program felt slighted by not playing on New Year’s Day, and this was his response:

It was a clear dig at the Wolverines, whom the Spartans have owned since Dantonio took over as head coach at Michigan State.

Harbaugh just couldn’t let that go, responding back on Twitter on Monday.

Backhanded compliment much?

It’s clear these two don’t get along much, because usually these things get settled behind closed doors. Instead, Harbaugh took a very public jab at Dantonio and all the off-field issues that took place over the last year and a half.

Who will get the ultimate last word? Well, this season that was certainly Michigan State. Not only did the Spartans beat Michigan, but they finished second in the East division, while Michigan faltered to an 8-4 finish in the regular season.

If anything, this should fuel an offseason of rivalry fun between these two programs.

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Michigan fans respond to John O’Korn with death threats following loss to OSU

John O’Korn leaves heartfelt message following loss to Michigan and some fans respond with death threats and more.

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Michigan was supposed to be an East division contender and a national power this season, but that didn’t happen the way some in the media thought it would. Instead, Michigan lost for the seventh straight season to hated rival Ohio State on Saturday to cap off a disappointing 8-4 regular season.

Naturally, the worst in Michigan fandom came out following the 31-20 loss. The biggest target of their ire? Backup quarterback John O’Korn, who had to fill in for an injured Brandon Peters.

A late interception by O’Korn didn’t help in a close game at home against the Buckeyes. It also led to some rather horrible abuse on Twitter — including advice to “kill yourself” and death threats due to this loss.

It couldn’t get much worse than this nugget:

Keeping it classy as always happens on Twitter, Michigan Twitter fans also went with the classic burn of “Yo Momma”

Then of course there were the more mild and idiotic Tweets. You know, things like the classic “you blow” burn and the like.

Sometimes Twitter really is the worst of humanity. Luckily, these tweets were a small sampling compared to the overwhelming group that showed support and thanks for the efforts of O’Korn and the Michigan team despite the loss.

Yes, losing to your arch-rival in a football game doesn’t feel very good. Yes, fans are going to get riled up continually losing those kind of games.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time this season something like this has happened to a Michigan quarterback. It all started with the vocal criticism and threats made to former starter, Wilton Speight.

Here’s a small piece of advice — if you feel the need to tell someone to kill themselves or to threaten them with death — put the Twitter machine down, walk away and don’t ever come back to it. Seriously? As much as we all love football, it is just a game at the end of the day and wishing death on someone because they didn’t play the way you wanted them is about as low as it gets.

O’Korn clearly left everything he had on the field for the Wolverines. Was it good enough to win this game? No.

But, what more can you ask for from any player other than to give it all for their team.

While O’Korn and the Wolverines lost the game, those who threatened him and the team following it are the ones losing at life.

Get over yourselves and move on with life. One loss by a team you support shouldn’t define your life. If so, it’s truly a sad one and we feel sorry for you.

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Michigan embracing spoiler role, hoping for miracle finish

Michigan’s once-hopeful season reduced to playing spoiler and hoping for a miracle East division title.

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This isn’t how the final two games of the season were supposed to be set up. Michigan had Wisconsin and Ohio State in a perfect back-to-back weekend scenario to end the season.

Win those games and it should be off to the College Football Playoff, right?

Instead, two losses have already piled up for the Wolverines and the hopes of an East division title are but gone. So too is any talk of a College Football Playoff berth, which most in the national media were openly talking about going in to the season.

Some wonder where the Wolverines will rank on Tuesday night in the latest College Football Playoff poll, especially given the chaos in front of them over the past two weeks. But, at 8-2 on the season and 5-2 in Big Ten, does the ranking really matter much at this point?

For players and coaches it appears the motivation is going to be about spoiling the season’s of the next two opponents and letting the chips fall where they may.

“I’m not really worried about that (the College Football Playoff ranking),” fifth-year center Patrick Kugler told reporters on Monday, via MLive.com. “Wisconsin is next. We can still be a 10-win team and kind of ruin people’s seasons. That’s kind of my goal right now.”

Kugler continued that theme noting a 10-2 season could theoretically get them in to the Big Ten championship game. He also noted that this team is going to embrace ruining someone else’s season.

“It’s kind of fun to ruin people’s seasons,” Kugler said. “We can be 10-2 and still make the Big Ten championship. It’s just kind of fun. To go in there, a hostile environment like Wisconsin, if we can come out of there with a victory, there’s nothing better than that.”

It is good news the team is staying positive, but also tells you how far adrift from expectations this season has gotten.

Embracing a villain’s role?

Hoping to play spoiler in the two biggest games on the schedule?

This is what Michigan’s season as been reduced to — a focus on what winning would do to the teams on the other side of the field.

That should tell you all you need to know really. Michigan’s season is reduced to playing the “we’ve got a chip on our shoulders” card and hoping someone else can help them make a miracle run to the Big Ten championship game.

Of course, it’s not an impossible task ahead of them, but as far as this season has told us it certainly feels that way.

Yet, Michigan’s players are still talking a big game.

“This whole week in practice, we’re going to be getting after each other, making sure everything’s perfect,” said Rashan Gary, via MLive.com. “We got an opportunity in front of us and we don’t want to let it go.”

Michigan’s coaches and players have sung this same tune before, especially leading up to its annual rivalry game against Ohio State. Yet, all that talk hasn’t amounted to a win in that series since 2011 and the Wolverines have generally struggled against ranked opponents over the course of the 2010’s.

The Wolverines are just 7-19 in games against ranked opponents since the start of the 2010 season. This is clearly a long-term problem, one that has admittedly gotten better since the start of the Harbaugh era.

Michigan is currently 5-5 against ranked opponents since 2015, but are just 2-4 against ranked Big Ten opponents and both of those wins came at home.

Then there’s the matter of the reality of the actual teams they have to face over the next two weeks.

How is Michigan’s offense going to be able to score on that Wisconsin defense? How will Michigan’s defense cope with the high-powered offense of Ohio State?

With so much money spent to try to bring Michigan back to national prominence, finding answers to those questions is the only way to salvage this season.

Then again, this is a program that had supreme confidence heading in to each and every season so far under Harbaugh. Each and every one of those seasons has ended in disappointment of one kind or another.

It’s that track record that makes all of this talk hard to buy in to once again.

Until the Wolverines show it on the field against a quality opponent on the road, perhaps all of this is best left unsaid to the public?

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