Michigan football: Another punishing loss to Ohio State casts cloud over 2019
Now that Michigan’s regular season has wrapped up and the loss to Ohio State has been discussed and chewed and digested, the Wolverines now await their bowl destination and opponent.
The Wolverines finished 9-3 overall, 6-3 Big Ten and ranked No. 14 in the most College Football Playoff rankings. There are strong indications they could play in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on New Year’s Day or in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 27.
Until then, why not take a quick look back at the season and consider some of the highlights and more challenging moments of the season?
Give it up for the tight ends, who were integral in all phases this fall, namely Nick Eubanks and Sean McKeon with some Luke Schoonmaker and freshman Erick All sprinkled in there. Eubanks finished with 229 yards on 23 catches, and McKeon, who missed three games because of injury, had 235 yards on 13 catches. They combined for five touchdowns, but their blocking — a vast improvement from last year — is what was head-turning this fall.
Michigan has to get better at linebacker. No one thought the position group would be just fine after the departure of Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Devin Bush, and there are certainly signs the position will get better across the board. When Josh Ross was injured, that gave Cam McGrone an opportunity, and he has strong upside. Ross will be back and Michael Barrett could be a factor.
Coming off a loss at Penn State where Michigan nearly pulled off a second-half comeback, the Wolverines demolished their rivals, Notre Dame, in a rainy windy first half, 45-14. Michigan ran for 303 yards and three touchdowns while holding Notre Dame to 180 yards of offense. Notre Dame was No. 8 at the time and, yes, the well-they-weren’t-that-good game can be played, but at the time, it was a valuable win for the Wolverines and seemed to indicate a corner had been turned.
This is too easy. Of course, the 56-27 beatdown by Ohio State is fresh on the minds of Michigan fans but go back to the start of the Big Ten season. That loss at Wisconsin was eye-opening on so many levels. The Badgers built a 35-0 lead with five minutes left in the third quarter. Think about that, although you probably don’t want to. This was certainly not the way to open conference play particularly after two weeks to prepare, just as the Badgers had.
Most underrated player
Aidan Hutchinson moved into a starting role at defensive end this season as a sophomore and he matched production — 63 tackles, tied for third on the team, 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks along with six pass breakups and two forced fumbles — with his role as an emotional leader.
Most valuable player
In his final three games, Shea Patterson became the first Michigan quarterback to have back to back to back 300-yard passing performances. He had 384 yards against Michigan State, followed by 366 at Indiana and five touchdowns and threw for 305 in the loss to Ohio State. After a rough start to the season, including the fumble on the first play of the season opener, Patterson’s performances gave the Wolverines a late-season surge.
Most improved player
Hassan Haskins, who arrived at Michigan as a running back, then moved to linebacker last year before returning to running back this year, was a major asset for the Wolverines in the second half of the season. He finished the regular season as the second-leading rusher behind Zach Charbonnet, but after the midway point, he got more carries than the freshman. Haskins finished with 561 yards on 103 carries. His workload increased the final six games with 77 carries for 372 yards and had three of his four touchdowns.
Best coaching decision
Shea Patterson was injured early in the season and there were mistakes made but kudos to Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis for sticking with him avoiding what would have been an unnecessary unproductive quarterback controversy. He was their starting quarterback for a reason and by backing him up through a difficult start as he got through a tough injury, he was able to produce well in a final stretch of games.
Worst coaching decision
Never quite understood the plan to go with a two-kicker rotation and the concept of not overthinking why that was in place. Michigan kickers Jake Moody and Quinn Nordin finished a combined 13-of-19. Nordin finished the season handling the kicking the final three games. Moody had missed a 37-yard attempt at Maryland, his last attempt of the season and finished 6-of-9. Nordin who had missed three kicks heading into that game, including two long attempts, made a 38-yarder and finished with seven made attempts for the season.