WHAT WE LEARNED: ABOUT MICHIGAN
Michigan had masked flaws all season but were no longer able to do so. The linebackers were a step slow all season, but Michigan mostly had covered it up with an elite defensive line and corners that can handle man coverage with relative ease. Losing defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow to injury after projected starter Bryan Mone went down for the entire season hurt enough, but OSU exposed Michigan's weaknesses on defense.
OSU basically ran the same few plays over and over. Michigan knew what was coming but was unable to stop it. With Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett running wild, Michigan made the only conceivable adjustment they could make and sold out for the run. This put a huge burden on the secondary, which normally would be up to the task. However, every time Barrett was asked to make a throw, he did (it wasn't very often).
Michigan's LBs are getting exposed because UM's once-strong, now decimated defensive line can no longer conceal them.— John U. Bacon (@Johnubacon) November 28, 2015
On offense, Michigan was competent while the game was close. They are not a team built to play from behind yet, and that showed on Saturday. Usually, Michigan dominated in the red zone to avoid falling behind this year, but their struggle to finish drives with touchdowns against OSU allowed the Buckeyes to pad their cushion. And any glimmer of hope for a comeback was erased when Joey Bosa delivered the death blow to Jake Rudock.
Michigan has a team that can beat worse teams regularly. They did this with superior coaching, great play designs on offense, and a strong defense that doesn't give up many points. However, there is a time when a team needs more than just coaching. Michigan didn't have the speed at skill positions to match up with OSU or the strength in the trenches. Great coaching took this team a long way, but, at some point, more horses are needed. And that's what it will take to compete with and beat the nation's top programs.
Michigan's needs for the future are clear. Michigan is a somewhat-flawed team, but it doesn't have to remain this way. Michigan can beat most of the teams on their schedule year in and year out, but, to beat the top teams, they need some help. With today being Cyber Monday, here is Michigan's wishlist for the future at each position:
Quarterback: Nothing - John O'Korn would have started this year if eligible, Brandon Peters is destined to be great by all accounts, and Taysom Hill could be taking a grad transfer from BYU. With Harbaugh's ability to develop quarterbacks, Michigan will be loaded here.
Running Back: More speed, more yards after contact, and better field vision. It's hard to be excited about anyone we saw this season for 2016. De'Veon Smith looked great before his injury and average afterwards. Drake Johnson's game was predicated on track star speed and explosiveness, which appears to have been lost in his offseason injury. Ty Isaac and Derrick Green have not even come close to living up to their five-star billing. Sione Houma is gone next year. Karan Higdon has wheels, but we didn't see much out of him. This is a spot where a true freshman could come in and start. Kareem Walker is an uncommitted recruit who is considered a Michigan lean. He could possibly fit the bill.
Wide Receiver. More speed and consistency, and a go-to #1 guy. Michigan doesn't have that #1 WR that we are used to watching just yet, like a Manningham or Edwards. Jehu Chesson is the closest thing resembling one, but he only has two 100+ yard games in three years. Michigan has a lot of recruiting to do for this position because the previous WR coach, Jeff Hecklinski, believed speed is an overrated element of being a receiver. It is absolutely vital that receivers in a pro-style offense have speed, and Michigan lacks it across the board with the exception of Chesson. Michigan is getting a few guys in the 2016 class that could help right away and still chasing a few more.
Tight End: Another year of Jake Butt. Michigan has good tight ends. A.J. Williams is good at blocking, and Khalid Hill and Ian Bunting are competent. But, if Butt decides not to enter the NFL Draft, Michigan is real solid at this position. Possibly throwing the #1 2016 TE Isaac Nauta in the mix, Michigan looks to be TE U for years to come.
Offensive Line: Continued development, dominant run blocking. Michigan's offensive line was vastly improved this year, but they were really bad before. Michigan needs an offensive line that does more favors for the running backs (when they do use field vision, that is) and just flattens opposing front sevens. This is a position that I expect to be much better again next year, as the relatively young group has another year to bulk up and gel as a unit.
Defensive Line: Some superstar recruits to keep the pipeline flowing, health for tackles. Michigan has a dominant defensive line when healthy. They were completely different when they lost Ryan Glasgow. With Bryan Mone already out for the season, Michigan had to use a makeshift line, as I described earlier. This is an area where Michigan likes to substitute guys out frequently, so they need more horses here.
Linebackers: Immediate help, speed, and tackling precision. This is a spot where Michigan should look for grad transfers and complete recruits that can start right away. Every spot besides Gedeon's is a huge question mark for next year. Michigan does not want to see attempted arm tackles by guys who are a step behind here. Michigan does not want any run that reaches the second level to go for eight or more yards. Michigan is in on a few recruits that could be swayed to come to Ann Arbor for immediate playing time. A couple names to look at are Dontavious Jackson (who visited this past weekend) and Caleb Kelly (visited earlier this season), but they are highly pursued by many schools. No guarantee.
Secondary: Another year of Jourdan Lewis, more speed at safety. Michigan's secondary held up really well all year. This is a position of strength but could be stronger with more overall speed in the unit and some upgrades at the safety position.
Michigan is loaded for the future at QB, TE, and DL.
Michigan is in a decent position for the future in the secondary and OL.
Michigan needs some help at WR and RB, especially with speed.
Michigan needs immediate help urgently at LB.
Jim Harbaugh is acutely aware of these things, and so is his staff. I obsess over them, but he spends 10,000 times as much time thinking about them as me, and he already is making his plans to fix them. He is a super-elite football coach who squeezed every ounce of talent out of a flawed team this year and is actively working to upgrade the roster for 2016 and beyond.
WHAT WE LEARNED: ABOUT THE BIG TEN
It still belongs to OSU and MSU for now. These teams both had huge days and have stated solid cases to make the College Football Playoff. You saw the scores, and I don't really feel like saying more nice things about either of these teams. Let's just leave it at that.
Iowa is 12-0. This is not a drill. But nobody is giving them a chance against MSU. Maybe Kirk Ferentz can steal the "disrespect card" from Mark Dantonio for one week. On second thought, I'm sure Dantonio can find some way to convince his team that they're being disrespected.
TWEETS OF THE WEEK:
(Background: Some dude reported Maryland had a deal with D.J. Durkin in place)
Why you lying? I'm sitting right next to him. https://t.co/QJB45dfGfk— Dontavious Jackson (@DCinco__5) November 29, 2015
OSU fans made a shirt about the fluke play that will likely keep them out of the playoff. Karma is so real. pic.twitter.com/QXvOwf4RAC— Seth (@scumbag_unit) November 29, 2015
Wonder if any Buckeye will kneel near Rudock in a show of sportsman..../sees Ohio State get a sideline warning for celebrating— the tweets are good (@MarktheNomad) November 28, 2015