The curtains closed on Michigan’s regular season this weekend, and the finale went just as planned — for Ohio State.
The eighth-ranked Buckeyes’ 31-20 win over the Wolverines (5-4 Big Ten, 8-4 overall) came after a shaky start, but everything changed in the second quarter as quarterback J.T. Barrett, and later his backup Dwayne Haskins, led the comeback.
Here are four things the Daily learned about the Michigan football team from Saturday’s loss:
1. Maybe it’s time to ditch the pocket passer
If the offensive line can’t protect the quarterback, does it matter how good his arm is?
The Wolverines’ run game has carried the team all season long, and Saturday was the same story.
Sophomore running back Chris Evans rushed for 67 yards and junior Karan Higdon ran for 55. The two have been Michigan’s most dynamic players throughout the season. The run game has been so strong because of Evans and Higdon, and it has been the Wolverines’ only option.
Just look at what other successful college football teams are doing.
No. 5 Alabama runs a spread offense with its dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts. No. 8 Ohio State’s quarterbacks have always been quick on the ground, too, and No. 2 Oklahoma and Heisman favorite Baker Mayfield favor the spread-style offense as well.
A spread system would give Michigan more options on the ground, and play to the team’s strengths.
Until Michigan finds a top passer who can thread the needle and hit the deep ball, it might be a worthwhile investment to look for a mobile quarterback.
2. Michigan’s getting closer to beating Ohio State, but not there yet
While the Buckeyes ended up with a convincing 11-point win, the game was closer than the final score indicated.
The Wolverines would’ve been able to play for a game-tying field goal on their penultimate drive, but a blocked extra point after Higdon’s third-quarter touchdown forced Michigan to rely on O’Korn to move the ball downfield with his arm.
Little plays like that blocked extra point or sophomore safety Josh Metellus’s dropped interception added up and put the team in a difficult position. Ohio State didn’t make nearly as many mistakes, and that proved to be the difference.
In hindsight, though, the Wolverines have done better than they did in the past. This year’s game and last year’s overtime finish were significantly closer than the 42-13 blowout Michigan faced in 2015.
3. The Harbaugh critics will be loud and clear
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is now 0-3 versus Ohio State. He’s 1-2 against Michigan State.
And in three seasons, the Wolverines haven’t beaten a single ranked team on the road.
While the records don’t favor Harbaugh, any critics claiming he should be on the hot seat are starting rumors that are unlikely to merit any truth.
It’s hard to imagine Harbaugh going anywhere else in the near future, because he hasn’t even had a chance to see his own recruits flesh out completely.
In 2018, players like sophomore linebacker Devin Bush and sophomore defensive end Rashan Gary — two of Michigan’s best — will be the faces of the team. On offense, redshirt freshman Brandon Peters have several more games under his belt and likely be the one leading the charge.
As the seniors and fifth-years that stuck around from the Brady Hoke era fade out of the program, Harbaugh’s guys will take over.
If the team can’t perform better next year, though, then the Harbaugh haters might have a point worth listening to.
4. Bold prediction: It’ll happen next year.
Give Peters, or maybe even Dylan McCaffrey, the ball against the Buckeyes, and the Wolverines should have a chance. The quarterback situation cost Michigan the game this weekend, but if Peters has another year to develop and grow, he could be the difference-maker the Wolverines needs.
Elsewhere on the field, not much is going to change.
The run game will stay strong with Evans and Higdon, and young wide receivers like Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones should improve as well.
The biggest two offensive losses are fifth-year senior fullback Khalid Hill and senior left tackle Mason Cole. Michigan’s offensive line will have to improve without Cole, its best and most consistent player for the last few years, but if it can, a lot will open up for the Wolverines’ offense.
The defense should continue to excel. Michigan’s top-ranked pass defense likely won’t lose anybody, and the linebacker situation should be fine as well — even without fifth-year senior Mike McCray.
Losing fifth-year senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst will hurt, but if defensive coordinator Don Brown continues to develop his aggressive unit, Michigan should be fine there as well.
So, is a road win in Columbus possible? It’s certainly going to be difficult, but it’s absolutely possible.