Progress was made but the Wolverines still fell short in accomplishing their ultimate goals
Good, but not good enough. There were so many positives to come out of the 2018 season for the Michigan Wolverines. The domination of Penn State and Wisconsin. Beating your in-state rival. Competent quarterback play. And another year with a top-five defense in college football. Tremendous accomplishments.
But in the biggest moment of the year, in The Game, the team and coaching staff fell flat on their face. There were believers that thought this year was different. Then 62-39 happened. And unfortunately, that one game cost them not only a trip to the Big Ten title game but a possible appearance in the College Football Playoff.
The Wolverines will look to rebound later this month and cap off the calendar year with an 11-win campaign as they take on Florida in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl but first, let's hand out some awards.
Offensive MVP: Karan Higdon, RB
The argument could be made that Shea Patterson had the biggest impact on the Michigan offense, but I have to roll with Old Reliable here in Higdon. The senior running back had double-digit rushing touchdowns for the second consecutive year and became the first Wolverine back since 2011 to top the 1,000-yard mark. At one point in the season, Higdon was on a streak of seven straight 100-yard rushing games. The offense revolved around him and the ground attack.
Defensive MVP: Devin Bush, LB
No lack of candidates to choose from — Chase Winovich, Lavert Hill, David Long among others — but Bush finished the regular season as the team leader in tackles, second in tackles for a loss, second in sacks and first in midfield grass stomps. Bush was named to the AP All-American second team.
Best Freshman: Jake Moody, K
There were very few notable contributions from the 2018 recruiting class as it was smaller in numbers and did not include any 5-star prospects. So with that, we turn to a kicker that seized the starting job after starter Quinn Nordin was too ill to play against Indiana in the home finale. Moody went on to hit all six of his field goal attempts in the win, garnering Co-Special Teams Player of the Week honors in the Big Ten. Moody also was the team’s full-time kickoff specialist and generated touchbacks on nearly half of his kicks.
Best Play of the Season: Donovan Peoples-Jones' 79-yard TD vs. Michigan State
The Wolverines had dominated their in-state rivals in the first half, yet were only up 7-0 until a huge swing in momentum when Michigan State recovered a fumble deep in the Michigan zone. MSU wound up converting the turnover into seven points and finally had the Wolverines on their heels. In the past few seasons when adversity hit, Michigan crumbled. Not this time around.
Best Performance by a Player: Karan Higdon vs. Michigan State
In that same game, in rainy and cold conditions, the Wolverines placed the offense on the shoulders of their leader, Higdon. The numbers weren’t eye-popping — 144 yards at 4.4 yards per carry — but it shouldn't overshadow a 33-carry effort against the No. 1 run defense in the country.
Best Game (Team Performance): Blowout of Penn State
The Wolverines were simply dominant in all facets of the game in the 42-7 romp over Penn State. Michigan racked up more than 400 yards of total offense, while allowing just 186 yards. Trace McSorley was hounded all afternoon long by the Michigan defense and completed just five passes on the day. The Wolverines were rolling on all cylinders heading into the final stretch of the season.
Defining Moment: Blowout of Wisconsin
A win over Wisconsin didn’t turn out to be that impressive of a victory considering how poorly the Badgers finished the season, but it did lead to the “Revenge Tour” mantra that galvanized the team for the rest of the year. After a string of wins over lackluster competition, this was the first sign to the fans that they could be in store for a special season.
Biggest Surprise: Offensive Line
Difficult to imagine this would be one of the biggest surprises of the year after their Week 1 performance against Notre Dame where the offensive line surrendered three sacks and allowed Shea Patterson to be pressured all night long. By the end of the season, the Michigan offensive line was perhaps the most improved position group on the team and currently ranks third in the Big Ten in sacks allowed. Much of the credit goes to first-year offensive line coach Ed Warinner, who transformed a group that was considered a question mark into a strength.
Biggest Disappointment: 62-39
There is no other possible answer that comes to mind. In the biggest game, in the biggest moment, the team fell flat... and that is saying it mildly. Progress was made in 2018, but as is the case in collegiate sports, rivalry games can make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful season — especially when considering the outcome determines who makes it to the conference championship game, as it did this year.
Senior That Will be Missed the Most: Chase Winovich, DE
This decision came down to either Winovich or Karan Higdon, but Michigan over the years has typically been able to run the football regardless of who is starting in the backfield. Winovich is not only one of the most productive players on the Michigan defense, but also one of the team’s most respected leaders.
Player to Watch in 2019: Josh Uche, DE
This answer changes dramatically if Shea Patterson decides to enter the NFL draft. But as of this week, Patterson has yet to make an announcement either way, so we land on soon-to-be senior Uche. The Wolverines will lose both of their starting defensive ends from this year in Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary, but should be in good hands with Uche manning down one of the starting spots as he led the team with seven sacks during the regular season.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: How Does Michigan Close the Gap on Ohio State?
New year, same old story. What was thought to be THE year for the Wolverines turned into one major letdown on that final Saturday in November. For anyone watching the game, defensive speed was a noticeable shortcoming on the Michigan defense as the Wolverines have few, if any, athletes that can keep up with the track stars on the Ohio State offense. Jim Harbaugh was well on his way in addressing that with the incoming recruiting class, but that hit a snag with 5-star recruit Daxton Hill opting for Alabama instead. Maybe it will it be as simple as Urban Meyer no longer being on the sidelines that changes the course of this rivalry moving forward. Harbaugh has another big offseason ahead to try and figure out how to get over this hump.
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.