Michigan mailbag: Is Jim Harbaugh too stubborn with run-heavy approach?

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Shea Patterson

So many Michigan football questions, so little time. Well that’s just not true. There’s plenty of time to discuss some of the topics sent my way. Most have to do with the offense and the offensive line, with some questions about the defense and penalties sprinkled in.

Thanks for sending them, even the ridiculous questions. Here goes:

Question: Players have said, “We haven’t shown the vast majority of our offense,” yet Harbaugh aid they will remain a run-heavy offense. Why, with skill position guys they have, would they limit themselves? -- @PerfectFitAR

Answer: I hear you, and you have good reason to wonder why, when the defense is stacking the box, Michigan continues to run up the gut for little gain. I don’t think Jim Harbaugh is going to change that approach, as pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton explained this week during a radio appearance. He said Harbaugh-coached teams liked to throw “body punches early,” so that’s the philosophy.

I’d agree there’s more in the playbook that has yet to be revealed, and yes, I know that players say that every year. But with Shea Patterson at quarterback, there is reason to believe there are things he can do with this offense that hasn’t been available the last few years for those calling plays. They have incorporated skill-position guys and even added a wrinkle in speedy Ambry Thomas. Donovan Peoples-Jones appears to be settling in, and my guess is we’ll see more Nico Collins and Oliver Martin.

Question: Why don’t any reporters ask Pep and Harbaugh when they will let Shea play. Dwayne Haskins is a sophomore and threw more times in one quarter than Shea did in an entire game. Let him loose. -- @umichjenks

Answer: First off, it’s not like we get a chance to talk to Pep very often. In fact, our interaction with him is limited. I agree with you about cutting Patterson loose, but if the defense starts playing like it has been expected to play, shutting down teams and not letting them stick around in games, Patterson won’t be asked to do too much. While we may want to see him making dynamic plays all the time, because he seems capable of that, that’s not what they’re asking him to do in games that the defense should control.

Now, that said, there’s been plenty of evidence Patterson can be that player who can make big athletic plays and perhaps there will be games he will have to win himself. But until then, I just don’t see them cutting him loose in the way you’d like to see.

Jim Harbaugh

Question: I heard Pep say that the offense will keep a run-heavy style. Do they not know that this won’t work against the big boys and both Pep and “old school Jim” will be run out of town and forced to quit when it fails? They need to know – tell them!” -- @jbjbgoblu

Answer: Why are you yelling me me?! Old-school Harbaugh isn’t going to change. Of course you have to hav a run game, but what needs to be abandoned is the stubbornness of trying to make a point that you are going to run the ball regardless. (Then again, there are times they’ve passed the ball – remember the Michigan State monsoon last year? – and you’re scratching your head wondering why Karan Higdon, who had been running well, wasn’t getting that opportunity.)

Offensive coaches want balance. Fans want to see points adding up with dazzling plays, mostly pass plays. If the defense is doing its job, they’re not going to ask Shea Patterson and the receivers to go crazy, so I don’t think you’re going to see a huge departure from the run-run-run approach.

Question: Will there be a time fans will quit asking coaches to reveal their entire playbook? Show everything you’ve got to the rest of the B1G in non-conference games? (eyeroll emoji) -- @MarkProff

Answer: I think this probably stems from the Notre Dame game. I’m assuming people wanted to see more, even though Shea Patterson was making his first start since the seventh week of last season and was coming off an injury, and the offensive line was untested as a group. Certainly, we didn’t expect to see them unleash much of the playbook the last two weeks, but against the Irish, I expected a bit more. I mean, seriously, what’s the point of hiding everything? I prefer this approach: This is what we do, we think we do it better than you can defend.

Question: Two part question: (1) Do you believe Michael Onwenu that only 50 percent of the playbook has been used and (2) If it's true, what more do you think Harbaugh and Co. have up their sleeve? -- @AttorneyRodenbo

Answer: I don’t have any reason to not believe him, and in the absence of having the playbook, I guess we’ll have to. Shea Patterson has been hinting there’s more to show, and it’s clear he can handle whatever it is they have up their sleeve. I don’t know what Michigan’s offense is “hiding” but Patterson is the not-so-secret weapon and with him running the show, not saying they’re going to open up the offense, but we’re going to see more Patterson to Peoples-Jones in my opinion.

Question: How can all of our O-lines stink since Lloyd Carr’s been the coach? Eleven years, three head coaches, numerous offensive coordinators and no one can figure it out? What is it at Michigan that we can’t figure out what Wisconsin and OSU can? -- @michmike69

Answer: It’s not about the offensive coordinators. It's about recruiting. Take a listen to my podcast guest this week, Jon Jansen, because we discuss this very subject. Rich Rodriguez came in and recruited a different type of lineman, and it has been uphill since then. Brady Hoke and his staff didn’t make a big enough emphasis initially on recruiting bruising offensive linemen. But Jansen also made the point that now that the great Michigan linemen have completed their NFL careers, it’s tough in recruiting to say, "Hey, this is Michigan. We put linemen in the NFL."

Question: Has Ed Warinner had any impact on this offensive line? -- @poppaTman

Answer: He has, yes. It started first with attitude. I haven’t seen a group of Michigan linemen sounding this confident in a while, and that’s not a small thing. The linemen have said repeatedly they felt overwhelmed under former line coach Tim Drevno. They had too much on their plates, too much to think about. Warinner has simplified things and made the scheme easier to grasp. Now, this hasn’t resulted in the line suddenly becoming all-world. Far from it, and we all know that. But there are signs of life and maybe even bigger signs in the young guys backing up some of the starters. Will this be a great line this season? No. But it will be an improved line.

Carlo Kemp

Question: Why does it seem the secondary is not making as many plays as last season with the same players? The defense seems to miss Mo Hurst in the middle. Is there anyone who can realistically replace his production at the tackle? -- @RajLakra

Answer: Hurst is missed, but I think having Aubrey Solomon and Lawrence Marshall out have really hurt the interior. Carlo Kemp seems to be improving. We're waiting on Michael Dwumfour to fill that Hurst void, though. The defensive backs have given up some big plays – last week’s 50-yarder was a miscommunication, a broken play that obviously needs to be cleaned up. The pass interference penalties are partly a function of being in an aggressive man defense, but I don’t remember this being an issue last year. Again, that needs to be cleaned up and it seems to me those are easy fixes.

Question: Did coach Harbaugh address reducing penalties? -- @danyaniv20

Question: Why is the Michigan defense committing undisciplined penalties? -- @jakefelton1355

Answer: Harbaugh did address them immediately after the game – hard to not talk about 13 penalties. I’d agree, Jake, they’re an indicator of undisciplined play, and the coaches know it. Still, they’re not going to change their aggressive approach. The defensive players this week said that’s not what coordinator Don Brown wants, but they will hone technique. The targeting calls are a different subject and they have all discussed that these last few days. But without question, getting these penalties in check had to be a huge focus in practice all week.

Question: What’s more important to our fan base: Winning a championship or competing ethically? -- @jetfire1979

Answer: I’ve spoken to a lot of Michigan fans about this, and it seems the majority fall in the latter category. They want a clean program – don’t Michigan fans celebrate every time basketball coach John Beilein is identified as the cleanest coach in the sport? And he got the Wolverines to the national title game, proof you can compete at the highest level without breaking the rules.

Question: Why can’t UM fans just chill and appreciate what we have? Bo was a whole different era, and as someone whose Big House experience began with RichRod, I appreciate the stability and credibility that Coach Harbaugh brought back to the program. -- @StandardPainWP

Answer: Well that’s just way too rational! But many Michigan fans understand there has been some great history here that involved beating rivals and winning Big Ten titles, and even a national title in 1997. I certainly understand how you’re measuring this, and you’re correct about the stability. But that’s probably never going to be enough.

Donovan Peoples-Jones

Question: Well it’s been 12 hours since Michigan has gotten a five-star. Can Harbaugh still recruit? Or has it passed him by?

Answer: That certainly made the Michigan fan base feel good, didn’t it? I was thinking about the fact, now that they’ve got a verbal from the No. 1 safety, Daxton Hill, that Michigan has the No. 1 center out of high school, Cesar Ruiz, the No. 1 player in Rashan Gary and No. 1 receiver in Donovan Peoples-Jones. And although he transferred in, Shea Patterson was the No. 1 quarterback coming out of high school. Oh, and the No. 1 kicker in Quinn Nordin.

Question: Why did they take away planet status from Pluto and are they now thinking of giving it back? -- @falterflow5

Answer: Wait, what? Is there a galaxy that exists outside of Ann Arbor and Michigan football? Weird. I had no idea.

Question: Which Big Ten coach would win a hot dog eating contest? -- @misterAndyReid

Answer: Andy, now I remember why I miss you at the Michigan press conferences. I’m going with Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst, although I wouldn’t count out Jim Harbaugh because he likes to win at everything.

Question: If the Michigan football program was a sitcom, which sitcom would it be? Also, who would play the once-youthful beat reporter but now getting on in years and nursing grudges against her more famous and talented columnist colleague? -- @oldmancoyote

Answer: So even though this is a ridiculous question, how about this – the Brady Bunch, because the show blended two families and a football team is about blending players and making them a family. How about that! As for the once-youthful beat writer who remains youthful, how about Jennifer Aniston. I could totally see her complaining about her annoying columnist colleague.