Defense may win championships, but a balanced football team is really the key to getting to said championship quality. Michigan won 10 games in 2015, but if it is going to make the next step up the ladder in the Big Ten and nationally, it is on offensive-minded head coach Jim Harbaugh to make this team more balanced.
A lot of that balance will hinge on a few key additions and subtractions being replaced by better players on offense in 2016. That includes a new quarterback, some changes along the offensive line and a recharged receiving game.
So, basically a step up from every aspect of the Wolverines offense (not that it was bad, but it could’ve been more helpful).
No question is bigger for the Michigan Wolverines heading in to fall camp than what is going to happen at quarterback. With one-year replacement Jake Rudock gone, Harbaugh must find a consistent starter and didn’t find a winner coming out of spring camp.
Instead, it appears to be a two-man race between Houston transfer John O’Korn and sophomore Wilton Speight. O’Korn certainly has the experience advantage, but Speight appeared to have the better spring on an individual level.
However, our guest on the talking10 podcast, Mlive.com Michigan beat reporter Nick Baumgardner believes that it will be the experience of O’Korn that eventually wins the day. If that is the case, Michigan coaches are going to need to see a quarterback who is better than a career that has seen him complete 56.4 percent of his passes for 4,068 yards and 34 touchdowns to 18 interceptions.
Unless something crazy happens, former highly touted recruit Shane Morris appears on the outside looking in for the third year in a row.
Chances are we aren’t going to get a real read on this battle given the closed-off nature of Michigan’s fall camp, so don’t believe anything you hear until we actually see someone go out and take the first snap of the opener.
While the overall running game needs an upgrade (just 8th in B1G last year), it has little to do with the talent on the field at the running back position. Senior De’Veon Smith is the unquestioned starter, after leading the team with 753 yards and six touchdowns last season.
But, it won’t be Smith alone at RB again this year as the top three rushers from last season are all back. That includes Drake Johnson and Ty Isaac. The trio combined for 1,229 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.
The wildcard may be the entrance of freshman Kareem Walker, who was the No. 4 running back in the 2016 recruiting class. He has been in the program since January and could be the dynamic back this program needs now and in the future.
The key to a more successful season in 2016 seems to simply be more consistency and less injury issues. It also will have a lot to do with the play of the offensive line in front of them, as the running game steadily declined throughout the year to the point of averaging just 3.5 yards per carry in the final month of the season.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Look no further than the pass catchers of the Michigan Wolverines for the biggest strength of this offense heading in to 2016. With the likes of veteran wide receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson and tight end Jake Butt all back for a final season in Ann Arbor, there are plenty of helpful options for whomever wins the starting quarterback battle.
However, Chesson enters fall camp with a bit of an injury scare and may need some time to work in to the mix during camp. That opens the door for what is the biggest issue for this group — quality depth.
Grant Perry had the third best reception total for any wide receiver in 2015, racking up 14 catches for 128 yards and one touchdown in his freshman season.
Some depth could come from the likes of 2016 recruits Amir Mitchell (who has been on campus since January) and Dylan Crawford depending on how far along they are in development and the playbook. Given the lack of depth overall, there is likely a lot of help on the way from young receivers.
Change is afoot as long-time center Graham Glasgow graduated and former left tackle Mason Cole has been put in the critical position in the middle of the line for the 2016 season. This group also needs to put together a good season to match year after year of top recruiting talent coming on board along the offensive line.
The good news in Cole’s move is it has more to do with some impressive play from sophomore Grant Newsome at tackle and he will be the starting left tackle this season. Joining him on the left side of the line is senior Ben Braden.
Meanwhile, to Cole’s right will be a pair of seniors in Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson and this is the side of the line with the most to prove as they’ve been around and starting for most o the last three years with little to show for it.
Depth has become better, with the likes of Jon Runyan and Nolan Ulizio taking up spots in the two deep as just sophomores and Juwann Bushell-Beatty appearing like he is close to turning the corner after two years buried on the depth chart.
Our Projected Starting Lineup
WR: Amara Darboh, Sr.
WR: Jehu Chesson, Sr.
TE: Jake Butt, Sr.
LT: Grant Newson, So.
LG: Ben Braden, Sr.
C: Mason Cole, Jr.
RG: Kyle Kalis, Sr.
RT: Erik Magnuson, Sr.
RB: De’Veon Smith, Sr.
FB: Henry Poggi, Sr.
QB: Wilton Speight, Jr.
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?
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.
— Shea Patterson (@SheaPatterson_1) December 11, 2017
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.
Dantonio, Harbaugh jab at each other after bowl game selections
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:
"I don't worry about that. I am just focused on the @HolidayBowlGame. I'll just continue to focus on beating Michigan and let things sort out." – Mark Dantonio when asked if he felt slighted because Michigan in playing Tampa. pic.twitter.com/6sjRzVZE6U
— Rico Beard (@RicoBeard) December 3, 2017
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.
Saw Coach D comments on continuing to "focus" on how "he" can beat Michigan. Congrats on turning around a 3-9 team, plagued with off field issues. Good for BIG to have him back.
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) December 4, 2017
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.
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.
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:
Kill yours self you worthless faggot.
— Chevy Chase🇵🇷🇮🇷 (@ThatKidChase7) November 26, 2017
Keeping it classy as always happens on Twitter, Michigan Twitter fans also went with the classic burn of “Yo Momma”
Yo mom need smacked for making such a shitty fuckin quarterback
— Gage (@FinlayGage) November 26, 2017
Then of course there were the more mild and idiotic Tweets. You know, things like the classic “you blow” burn and the like.
You fucking blow!
— Nick Reamer (@ReamerNick177) November 26, 2017
Worst starting QB in Michigan history. At least you'll be remembered for something
— Brendan Lang (@blang_96) November 26, 2017
This was you today… grateful your gone ✌️ pic.twitter.com/eGMK43Yuln
— TaylorgangTrippy2050 (@IamTrippyMane) November 26, 2017
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.
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.
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?