'We win the championship': Former Heisman winner Woodson sees national title for Michigan
Ann Arbor — Charles Woodson, Michigan’s 1997 Heisman Trophy winner, has lofty expectations for the Wolverines this season.
Woodson was a member of the undefeated national championship team at Michigan that year, and he believes the Wolverines are poised for a similar season. He was in Ann Arbor on Wednesday for the launch of his new wine, appropriately called “Intercept.” Woodson also is doing some television feature work for the NFL and is talking to a few networks about continuing his work has an analyst.
“Undefeated, college playoff, we win the championship,” said Woodson, who has not been to a practice this camp. “That’s my prediction, so don’t try to alter that. It’s not going to change. Now, if you ask me how I feel about the team and what I expect, I’m excited about having offensive coordinator Josh Gattis that comes in with an up-tempo offense, spreading guys out, getting your playmakers into space, allowing those guys to get the ball and just go and do what they’re going to do. The offense fits Shea Patterson, fits his abilities, especially to get out of the pocket, running those RPOs, those things should work well with his skill set, so I’m excited about that.
“I’m excited to see who’s going to step up on the defensive side of the ball. I think if you watch Devin Bush playing his (NFL) preseason, you know what a big-time talent we’re going to miss in the middle of that defense this coming season. You’re gonna have to have guys that step up, kinda fill his role as a leader. A guy like Rashan Gary on the defensive line, those guys, they’re gonna be missed. But the challenge is for the next guy. Who comes up and makes the plays? I’m excited to see how it plays out.”
Michigan has a challenging schedule that features its three rivalry games at Michigan Stadium — Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. The Buckeyes have beaten Michigan seven straight and 14 of the last 15. Woodson had some of his most memorable moments against Ohio State.
“Gotta beat 'em, gotta beat 'em, gotta beat ‘em,” Woodson said before the question was asked completely.
Ohio State upended Michigan 62-39 last season, a loss that clearly struck a nerve with the returning players and coaches, particularly those on defense. Woodson was asked his reaction to last year’s game.
“That was nasty,” Woodson said. “That was disappointing for somebody that’s been in the program and for somebody that’s a fan of Michigan football, for all of our alumni, for all of the former players, it was embarrassing. You never want to see that happen to your school, especially against your rival.
“This is my hope, is that they watched that game, they take everything they can from that game and transfer it into this season. Not just that game but the entire season. Every week, you need to be playing them, and you need to take it out on everybody else and then once you get to them, then you take them out, too.”
Woodson applauds coach Jim Harbaugh’s willingness and decision to break from his traditional offense to hire Gattis and overhaul the offense.
“I think it’s an accumulation of each of the past seasons,” he said of Harbaugh’s move. “I think it’s an accumulation of each of the past Ohio State games. I think all of those things added up to where he said, ‘You know what? I need to make a change, I need to try something different. Maybe I need to step back and watch somebody else do it and see if the players respond to it and then take it from there.’ I think everything came down on him and he had to make a change. He had no choice. What was going on wasn’t working. I think that’s what happens.”
The offense suits quarterback Shea Patterson and the skill players, like receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Tarik Black, Woodson said.
“You’ve got to be able to get the ball into your playmaker’s hands,” he said. “Those RPOs are tough. Even if you play for them, somebody’s going to be open, because if you’ve got a good quarterback that is very cool and calm under pressure, the longer he holds that ball, the longer he has you sucked in, the better it’s going to be for somebody to be open. If you’re a little bit late, and you’re backing up waiting on the pass, I just let the ball go and hand off and I’m going to get 5, 10 yards.”
Woodson thinks Patterson is perfectly suited to this offense in part because he ran something similar while at Ole Miss his first two seasons but also because of his athleticism.
“It fits his skill set,” Woodson said. “To me, he’s a running quarterback. You’ve got to utilize that athleticism he has. You saw some of the things they did, the read plays that they played last year picked up a lot of chunk yards on those plays. Imagine adding the RPO aspect to it. Then you get guys spread out, you get your playmakers into space and then all of a sudden, once you get the team kind of confused, now you use the guys’ speed downfield.
“Sometimes some players are better suited for certain offenses or defenses, and I think this suits him.”
It also suits the receivers. Gattis has always coached receivers during his career, and he has a deep group that also includes Ronnie Bell and freshman Mike Sainristil.
“They’re not out there enough,” Woodson said of the receivers last year. “They’re not out there making plays enough. Peoples-Jones is a problem, but you’ve got to get him the ball. Nico is a big receiver. You’ve got to get him the ball.
“If we’re in the red zone, and I’m not taking a couple of shots in the red zone to the big guy and let him try to outjump the DBs, what am I doing? Got to utilize those guys and take some shots. If a team doesn’t respect you downfield, they’re all going to stay up on the line of scrimmage and make you try to beat them.”