It was a terse press conference after yesterday's loss. To say that Jim Harbaugh didn't elaborate on his answers is generous; in truth, he rarely answered questions at all. "We'll regroup" was the slogan of the day, one that he used almost as much as deflective praise toward Ohio State's players. If Harbaugh cared about such things, someone might have mentioned that it had been almost three full years since Harbaugh lost a game by so many points (a 42-13 contest in 2012 to the Seattle Seahawks). But Harbaugh would have shrugged at the mention of past wins or losses - Saturday was only about that day, that game. The worst game of Michigan's season.
Just like that, the roller coaster ride of 2015 is running through its final loop. Michigan now has a month to get healthy, find out if the coaching carousel manages to poach any of Harbaugh's assistants, and watch the Big Ten Championship Game from home while it works toward a tenth win. They have time to get back to fundamentals, to team-building and taking stock of their goals.
It will also be a time for Michigan fans to turn the page - from a wild and largely successful season to the issues that need to be addressed in the off-season. After all, this weekend made crystal clear that there is a plenty of ground to make up in the Big Ten East. And whether it's injuries, referees, or the toll of a long season, this team is showing almost as many areas of concern, somehow, as they did at the season's start. From linebackers to the ground game, here are Michigan's six biggest questions.
6. What is Jabrill Peppers' future?
In many ways, this is a good problem to have, but it's a frightening thought that Jabrill might not be roaming Michigan's secondary as often going forward. As MLive pointed out, Jabrill played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, H-back, safety, corner, and worked as a punt returner against Ohio State. And yet, his role as Superman wasn't enough to hold back the Buckeyes.
As the season progressed, Jabrill started to take a larger role on offense, leaving secondary obligations to Delano Hill, Dymonte Thomas, and Jourdan Lewis. Whether this was done purely out of necessity - and where Michigan will continue to need him in the future - is a big unknown. Any other coach in the country wouldn't have the trust of his entire fan base to not mess up someone's development by playing them at seven positions. But Harbaugh and Jabrill are a strange and special case.
5. Will the offense develop more play-makers?
Jehu has been a godsend for this offense, with a big play almost every game. Jake Butt has put together one of the best seasons in Michigan tight end history; in fact, with five more catches in the bowl game, he'll tie Bennie Joppru for the most receptions by a tight end in school history. And, De'Veon Smith and Sione Houma have been steady as a rock with the ball in their hand, even if their explosiveness leaves a little to be desired. This team has gotten contributions from a lot of unlikely faces, but play-makers they have been.
Unfortunately, Michigan will need a little more from its play-makers going forward. Regardless of the valiant efforts of those mentioned above, this team has struggled to manufacture chunk plays, relying as much on clever play designs and fooling a defense as it has on players winning their one-on-one matchups. This team has to find a consistent, reliable threat downfield to make its life easier. Who will do that?
4. Are all of Michigan's coaches sticking around?
This is entirely up in the air, and hopefully it turns out to be nothing. Harbaugh likes having an ambitious, over-achieving staff on hand, and those will always suffer their share of attrition. Right now, rumors are swirling around D.J. Durkin getting a head coaching job; at last check, there are eleven open coaching positions in the FBS, even with Justin Fuente headed to Virginia Tech, Iowa State's job being filled by Toledo's head coach, and Les Miles possibly staying put at LSU after all. Durkin will be offered a lot of money if a few of those schools believe he's ready.
Once a big question mark, quarterback is now looking much better. Credit: Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports
3. Can Michigan's defensive line find an answer without Ryan Glasgow?
This is more of a concern for Michigan's bowl opponent, and less so for next season, when the team gets Bryan Mone back, Glasgow healthy, and a host of freshman contributors - redshirts like Shelton Johnson and Reuben Jones, and first-year collegians Ron Johnson, Carlo Kemp, Rashad Weaver, and Jordan Elliott (plus whoever else commits in 2016). So there will be new blood, at least, to support the cause in case anyone goes down.
But given Michigan's problems with tempo, it's clear that some of that young talent will be called upon sooner rather than later to bolster Michigan's depth up front. How quickly can the young players adjust to college football? How well can they play?
2. Can we fix our linebacker problems?
Based on last night alone, this has a case for Michigan's #1 concern. The linebackers have been exposed several times this season, whether because of athleticism issues or over-aggressiveness. In fact, this group has contributed to the large majority of opponents' success against our defense. Jake Ryan, we miss you.
The good and bad news here is that next year will be a very different group. Des Morgan, Joe Bolden, and James Ross are all moving on.
1. When will Michigan produce a consistent run game?
Drake Johnson might be gone next year. So too, it seems, will Derrick Green and Ty Isaac, though nothing official has been said in either case. Graham Glasgow, Michigan's best offensive lineman, will be saying farewell. That leaves De'Veon, some struggling guards, Mason Cole, Erik Magnuson, Grant Newsome, and question marks.
Look at all of that too closely, and it doesn't seem like enough to craft a vicious, rough-and-tumble offensive attack. Fortunately, some great Michigan coaches will have a long time to continue teaching and building these players up, and some 2016 additions (here's looking at you, Kareem Walker) could come in handy as well. Michigan needs depth behind De'Veon; they also need depth and strength on the interior to start winning some more games at the line of scrimmage.
What are your thoughts? Do you think the linebackers have been the biggest concern? Or that the second cornerback spot or the safeties should be on the list? Share your thoughts below.