The big-picture approach for Michigan this bowl postseason is to reach 11 wins. That has been the team’s motto and goal since losing its regular-season finale against Ohio State.
Michigan (10-2, 8-1 Big Ten) will face Florida in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 29 in Atlanta, and the Wolverines will try to snap a two-game bowl losing streak. Junior defensive end Rashan Gary already has announced he will not only skip his final season of eligibility to pursue the NFL Draft, but he also will not play in the bowl game.
It is possible there will be others who will not play. Fifth-year defensive end Chase Winovich and quarterback Shea Patterson, who is still weighing his options regarding next season, have said they will definitely play in the bowl. They remain focused on the goal at hand, reaching 11 wins.
“Hungry for another win,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, finishing his fourth season with the Wolverines, said recently. “That’s our mindset."
Michigan last won 11 games in 2011 under then-head coach Brady Hoke, and the last 11-win season before that was under Lloyd Carr when the Wolverines were 11-2 in 2006. Harbaugh has had two 10-win seasons at Michigan, which was 8-5 last season.
“Getting our team prepared to play a really good, uber-talented, twitched-up team like Florida — that’s a great challenge,” Harbaugh said. “The competition always is the best part and the objective is to win. Hungry for that 11th win.”
Bowl practices and, to some extent, bowl games are meant to focus on next year by giving players who didn’t play a major role during the current season a chance to gain more reps and prepare for spring practice and next fall. So while the Wolverines want 11 wins for 2018, they also want to begin preparing for next year.
One player who should earn plenty of work during bowl practices is receiver Tarik Black. Has there been a more star-crossed player lately in terms of injuries at Michigan? Black, as a freshman in 2017, was the team’s leading receiver with 11 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown when he broke a bone in his left foot and missed the rest of the year.
From all accounts, he had a terrific offseason and was ready to be a “breakout” player this fall when he broke his right foot a week before the start of the season. Black was able to get back this season, but Harbaugh said there were still routes he wasn’t capable of running at full speed. That’s certainly understandable considering he made his return a few months after the injury. He had two catches for 20 yards this season.
While Black was sidelined, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins led the team in receiving. Collins had 552 yards and six touchdowns, while Peoples-Jones had 541 yards and seven touchdowns. Don’t forget: During the 2017 season, Michigan receivers caught only three touchdown passes.
This should be the time for Black to shine. And oh, the irony. He made his career debut against Florida in the season opener in 2017, and now the Wolverines are playing Florida again to finish the 2018 season while, perhaps, giving Black a springboard into next year.
Another skill spot on offense, running back, should also see some new faces in the mix. Senior captain Karan Higdon might or might not participate in the bowl game — Harbaugh said last week he does not make those announcements and will let the players handle them — and if he doesn’t, it’s a sure bet Chris Evans will be the primary ball carrier.
The position group has thinned recently, though. O’Maury Samuels, who had been considered a back who would have received more reps during bowl practices, was dismissed from the team last week. He appeared in court last week facing one charge of domestic violence and one charge of malicious destruction of property, both misdemeanors. Kurt Taylor, a redshirt freshman, decided in November to leave the team to pursue a transfer.
The Wolverines have a good sense for what Tru Wilson gives them in the run game, so Christian Turner could be one who substantially benefits during bowl practices.
Offensive line coach Ed Warinner also already might be tinkering with the line for next year. Juwann Bushell-Beatty will be gone and Andrew Stueber made the start at right tackle in the Ohio State game. There has been so much talk about freshman Jalen Mayfield, and he should expect to be in the mix for added reps during the bowl preparations. He’s looked at as a left tackle, and while Jon Ruynan received All-Big Ten accolades, Mayfield might get reps at right tackle.
On the defensive side, here are a couple of younger players who also should benefit from these practices heading into Atlanta. Freshman defensive end Aidan Hutchinson saw game action and had 15 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, so he’s had productive game experience. With Gary out, Hutchinson will get more from the defensive line rotation.
It is unclear what Michigan’s cornerbacks situation will be for the bowl. It’s possible Lavert Hill and David Long could move on and opt to sit out of the bowl. Regardless their status, this is prime time for speedster Ambry Thomas to get more than just spot work.