Michigan got its man. Now the hard part begins. After stumbling through the Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke eras, the Wolverines have made the home run hire they needed by bringing Jim Harbaugh back to Ann Arbor. Optimism is high, but the short-term prognosis is questionable. Michigan needs to find a quarterback and solidify the play of the offensive line to complement what should be a steady defense. If that can happen, Michigan can surprise.
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Previewing the Michigan Offense for 2015
Out with the old, and in with a newer version of the … well … old. Of all the changes new coach Jim Harbaugh has made, completely revamping the offense really wasn’t one of them. The offense implemented by former head coach Brady Hoke was basically meant to be a copy of what Harbaugh used to run at Stanford. But Hoke’s version never worked, and the Wolverines collapsed to No. 112 nationally in total offense a year ago.
The biggest focus for Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch has been pass efficiency. Michigan posted a dreadful team pass efficiency rating of 109.7 last season, 107th nationally. In the spring, Michigan worked with junior Shane Morris, true freshman Alex Malzone and redshirt freshman Wilton Speight — a trio with zero combined touchdown passes in college. Come fall, the Wolverines will welcome true freshman Zach Gentry to the fold and also get a boost from graduate transfer Jake Rudock. Rudock was the fourth-most efficient passer in the Big Ten last season at Iowa.
The quarterback battle is far from over, and one could say that with nearly every other position on offense as well. The departure of leading receiver Devin Funchess to the NFL puts more pressure on junior Amara Darboh to build on his 473-yard showing from a year ago. In total, Michigan returns just five touchdown catches from last season (two from Darboh, two from tight end Jake Butt, one from sophomore Freddy Canteen).
The offensive line returns five players with staring experience but lost senior center Jack Miller to retirement in the spring.
Previewing the Michigan Defense for 2015
Michigan’s defense finished the 2014 season as one of the more underrated units in America as the offense was woefully bad, constantly leaving its defense out to dry and ultimately resulting in a 5–7 record. In fact, if it weren’t for the defense, the Wolverines may have finished with at least two fewer victories a year ago. The good news is that 24 of the 29 players who appeared on the final defensive depth chart are back. And that number doesn’t include touted redshirt freshman safety Jabrill Peppers, who had as strong a spring camp as any player on the team.
The Wolverines finished the 2014 season No. 7 nationally in total defense. And while they will have to replace playmakers Jake Ryan, Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer, the amount of seasoned depth returning at all three levels is significant.
New defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin says the team will be multiple this season, running 4-3 and 3-4 sets. In the spring game, though, the team almost exclusively showed a 4-3. The heartbeat of the defense again resides in the middle, as senior Joe Bolden is back after a 102-tackle season, and senior Desmond Morgan returns after missing nearly all of last year with an arm injury.
Previewing the Michigan Specialists for 2015
Michigan lost former Big Ten Punter of the Year Will Hagerup and starting placekicker Matt Wile to graduation. True freshman Andrew David arrives as one of the nation’s top-rated kickers, and graduate transfer Blake O’Neill is expected to handle the punting. The units surrounding the specialists might actually present a bigger concern, as Michigan’s special teams suffered from a lack of discipline and explosion.
If Harbaugh can keep Michigan’s offense from stepping on land mines while showing improvement week to week, the defense is good enough to push the Wolverines to at least eight victories. But if Michigan doesn’t find a quarterback who can protect the football, or get a serious push from its offensive line, the team may struggle to make a huge leap in Year 1 of the Harbaugh era.