All week long we are talking everything Michigan Wolverines football for the 2017 season. Following another double-digit win total season and a whole lot of disappointment, can the Wolverines capture that elusive Big Ten division title and get to Indianapolis for the first time?
Preview Week: Lessons from 2017 |
Part of the answer comes from understanding what is happening with the offensive side of the ball. Up next on our preview week happens to be just that — a look at the state of the Wolverines offense heading in to the 2017 season.
Key Players Returning: Wilton Speight, QB; Brian Cole, LT; Ben Bredeson, LG
Key Players Gone: Jake Butt, TE; Jehu Cheson, WR; Amara Darboh, WR; De’Veon Smith, RB; Erik Magnuson, RT
So, let’s get down to understanding what the offense will look like.
The Good News is…
This was the Big Ten’s best offense last season. No seriously, it was. Michigan averaged 40.3 points per game to lead the conference and its 66 total touchdowns on offense were tied with both Ohio State and Penn State for the lead.
Sure, a lot of the parts of that leading offense are gone, but after waiting years for an explosive offense, the Wolverines faithful finally saw one. It’s leader is back, with quarterback Wilton Speight looking ready to move forward after his first season as a starter.
Additionally, there’s talent back at running back in Chris Evans. He ran for 614 yards and four touchdowns in his freshman season last year. There’s no secret that the running game is the key to Michigan’s success or failure and in Evans they appear to be in good hands (and legs).
Oh, and some guy named Jim Harbaugh is still at the controls along with Tim Drevno. I’ll take that combination every day of the week.
The Bad News is…
Outside of a returning Wilton Speight at quarterback there isn’t a whole lot coming back as known quantities at skill positions. Wide receiver has been gutted by graduation, the best tight end in the Big Ten also graduated and De’Veon Smith did the same. So, that means all the pieces to the puzzle around the quarterback are changing.
In total, Michigan is missing seven starters and 14 letterwinners from last season’s team. That includes Jehu Cheson and Amara Darboh at wide receiver, Jake Butt at tight end and the aforementioned Smith at running back.
Talk about brutal.
Even if you acknowledge the fact that Michigan has been really good on the recruiting trail, history suggests this kind of change can be really difficult to manage. It isn’t like Michigan hasn’t been a well-oiled recruiting machine in the past either. Scores of four and five-star players have come in to the program in the past two regimes and weren’t successful.
It should be a pause for concern this time around too, if for no other reason than the pure numbers of players gone.
The Good News is…
The two players returning at offensive line appear to be the best two players left from last season’s unit. Sophomore Ben Bredeson is the real deal at left guard and left tackle Brian Cole likely should’ve and easily could’ve left after his junior season.
With three other starters to replace, having two rock-solid players on one side of line is certainly a help.
Additionally, Bredeson and Cole were adept at opening holes for a really good run game. Michigan finished last season second in yards per game and scored 41 rushing touchdowns to run away (pun intended) with that stat in the Big Ten. Michigan was fourth in the conference, giving up just 22 sacks on the year as well.
That’s not the only good news here either, as we’re about to see if Greg Frey’s tutelage of the offensive linemen behind the scenes will pay off. It’s one thing to have three or four really good offensive linemen in the fold. It’s a totally different thing to show you really have some depth.
If depth was or is really there, we’ll see this offensive line not miss a beat from last season. That’s because freshman Michael Oneweu and sophomore Jon Runyan are likely to take over on the right side with exactly zero career starts between the two of them. Senior Patrick Kugler went from potential transfer to starting center this offseason as well, so it appears the starting group is there.
We’ll just have to wait and see just how quickly this group gels and moves piles.
The Bad News is…
Everything had to fall in place just exactly right for this team to be competing on the level everyone expects of them in 2017. Simply put, winning a Big Ten title is an annual expectation, and it may not be a realistic one this season.
What if the offensive line can’t stay healthy? There really isn’t a lot of depth there right now. Chris Evans isn’t healthy? Is Karan Higdon a featured back that can take over or is redshirt freshman Kareem Walker ready to go too…I think you are seeing the point here.
Everything has to go right for this offense to help make this team a success in 2017. One key injury or a few small ones and Michigan could be in some serious trouble on the offensive side of the ball this season.
What it All Means for 2017?
With this team going through so much change, it could either be a really good or really bad reset. In fact, this season may be all about testing just how good the coaching is on this staff.
Can the offensive line get things together? Are young skill position players ready to go? What about the growth or lack thereof at quarterback?
If the answers to those questions are all positive then look for the Wolverines to be a success in 2017. If the answers are a mixed bag or negative, this season is not going to be fun to watch in Ann Arbor. Simply put, the thought of “next man up” is going to be put to a severe test this season for the Maize ‘n Blue offense.
Michigan’s Karan Higdon guarantees a win over OSU
Well, that escalated quickly.
It took all of one media session ahead of “The Game” between Michigan and Ohio State for things to get really interesting.
That’s because Michigan running back Karan Higdon decided to call the Wolverines shot…guaranteeing a win over the hated Buckeyes from Ohio State this Saturday.
To be fair, this all started with Higdon’s head coach, Jim Harbaugh, who guaranteed a victory way back in 1986.
Harbaugh was right that day, leading the Wolverines to a 26-24 win and the Rose Bowl just like he said they would.
Ever since then, it’s been an annual tradition, but there hasn’t been this much on the line for “The Game” since the 2006 edition which pitted No. 1 against No. 2 in the nation.
Ohio State won that game and went on to play Florida in the BCS national championship game.
This year’s game has a lot of the feel of the 2006 and 1986 versions. All that is on the line is a Big Ten East division title and a berth in the College Football Playoff. You know, nothing big.
For Michigan, there is also the six-game losing streak to Ohio State and the fact that they are 1-13 since 2004 in the most-heated and hated of rivalries within the Big Ten.
Higdon may have been goaded in to the statement, but he also didn’t back down from it.
We’ll see if the Wolverines can back up the talk of their running back.
You can bet Ohio State will find some serious motivation that big of a statement.
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, Michigan State embracing importance of in-state rivalry
Michigan and Michigan State at least agree that this rivalry game is an important one.
Michigan and Michigan State couldn’t be more different. It’s in their DNA as universities really. But, that stark difference really hasn’t been seen much on the field.
Off the field, these two teams treat this game in vastly different manors.
Publicly, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has tried to play down the bitterness of this game. He’s of the “this is the game on our schedule this week” camp, but does at least acknowledge the fact that this game does matter.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is the second-longest serving head coach in the Big Ten, but his stance on the game with Michigan hasn’t changed. He’s not afraid to call it a rivalry, nor shy away from the importance of this in-state matchup.
“I think coaches know what games are important, they understand,” Dantonio said on Tuesday, via MLive.com. “They can stand up here and say, ‘well, it’s just another football game,’ but it’s not.”
It’s not a surprising stance, given Dantonio is the one who has made this game in to a real rivalry on and off the field.
I mean, there’s the classic, “pride comes before the fall” moment…
…and who can forget his comments on Mike Hart calling Michigan State “little brother?”
Then there’s the fact that Michigan State has taken advantage of Michigan’s downturn on the field. Dantonio backed up any talk so far, owning a 7-3 record against the Wolverines.
Going from after thoughts to College Football Playoff participants speaks volumes, and making the Michigan game in to a true rivalry helped get the Spartans to where they are today.
“I have a great amount of respect for what they’ve accomplished down there – always have had that,” said Dantonio, via MLive.com. “My goal when I came here was to make that a rivalry. I think it’s a rivalry. We’ll leave it at that.”
As for his counterpart…well, Harbaugh is heaping praise on the opponent and downplaying the talk of the bitterness of this game.
If that isn’t the classic rope-a-dope tactic of a head coach, I don’t know what is.
At least one of his players isn’t afraid to talk about the bitterness and importance of this game. Defensive end Maurice Hurst let us know this game’s importance isn’t just on the field, its in the battles for recruiting as well.
“Everything really matters about this one because the recruits care about it, the people in the state care about it a lot and you hear about it for the entire year,” Hurst said. “It is something that brings the best out of people, just because a lot of these guys know each other and a lot of them are from the same area.”
With Michigan again getting all the national attention and Michigan State coming off a brutal 2016 and 2017 offseason, it’s understandable for Dantonio to want to play this game up.
Can his team show that the emphasis on this game can translate back to winning results? Let’s not forget that the Spartans have won three of the last four in this series.
But, this is a vastly different year in the rivalry. There are a lot of young players on both sides of this thing, and that could make for some interesting moments on Saturday night under the Michigan Stadium lights.
It may just be whomever can get the emotional aspect of this game right that will win.