Dan: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to the last Mailing it in of the regular season. We'll quickly recap the OSU game, talk about how the season went, and then give an ever-so-quick look at the bowl season. Man, Von, I'm pretty at peace over this game and the season as a whole, but I do think we should touch on it. Based on what we said last week, it looks like we got the all-around effort we've seen since Peters took over the job but with John O'Korn's skills at the QB position. Fair to say? There was no quit in those boys Saturday. Hell of an effort.
Von: With a few exceptions, yes, that is fair to say. The effort level was high throughout most of the game, especially defensively from Rashan Gary and Devin Bush, but there were a few plays made that left me saying "what the hell?" Josh Metellus looked like he just gave up on Mike Weber's game-clinching TD run late in the game. He also dropped the easiest interception he could have ever had, and that changed the momentum of the game, too. Metellus' play over the past few weeks has me pretty concerned with him moving forward. I don't know if he has been injured or if it truly is a motivational thing, but it just looks like he is not 100 percent into the game right now.
Dan: We've talked A LOT about the safeties the second half of the year. It almost seems like it's been a weekly discussion topic since the Penn State game. I think that's definitely a position that will be examined further in the off-season. Do you think this game goes differently if Josh makes that pick near the goal line? Michigan is looking at a 1st down up 14-0 having just landed a counter-punch to OSU's drive. At the very least, things set up quite differently
Von: Yeah things could have been much different had he intercepted the ball. But then again, things would have been much different if Brandon Peters was able to suit up and play instead of O'Korn. But those are all things that are out of our control and, at the end of the day, don't really matter that much. Gotta just move on and look ahead to the bowl game, which we will talk about in just a minute. But before that, I have one last question for you about this OSU game. Chris Evans played an outstanding role in this game, picking up huge third down conversions and first downs on several occasions, especially on the opening drive. My question to you is this: Where the hell was all of this earlier in the year, especially with the brilliant play calling??? Evans is such a useful offensive weapon and he should have absolutely been utilized more often than not this season.
Dan: Is it a cop-out to say that "they didn't know the playbook"? I mean think about it. Half the line was first-year starters. You had a true freshman starting at one wide out spot and others rotating in. Your top tight ends are freshmen and sophomores. Throw all that together with a quarterback situation and disarray and a running back situation that was never perfectly clear. Higdon had the best year, but Isaac had the best start and Evans the best finish. This was an offense that never really found its rhythm. You can blame talent, coaching, youth, or injuries and you'd probably be part of the way right. It's easy to wonder "where'd Ty go?" or "where was this Evans?" but the truth is that they had opportunities and things didn't pan out. Play-calling was definitely improved the back half of the year and one has to wonder how handcuffed Drevno and company were at the year's start.
Von: That is an interesting take on that question. It is kind of strange how Isaac went from the "clear #1 running back" to playing third fiddle behind Evans and Higdon. Then Higdon broke out against Indiana and took the reigns until he suffered an injury against Maryland. Then Evans finished the year as the go-to guy, which was sort of his role at the beginning of the year against Florida. You're right, it was an offensive cluster f*** from the start, but with an all-purpose back like Evans, one like me wonders why he wasn't used in the passing game more often. He is elusive enough to be that kind of guy, and I hope we see more of that next season with an established QB *fingers crossed*
Dan: Now that last part I will 100% agree with. At the very least, Evans makes for one of the best 3rd down backs in the country and is the perfect guy for swings and screens and check downs. I don't think we'll know the answer. Last thing on OSU before we jump into the overall season and just the bowl. Everyone knows that Harbaugh is now 1-5 against MSU and OSU in his career. What I'm not sure people know is that Michigan has held a lead in 4 of those 5 losses and two-score leads in 3 of the 5. I'm not sure what to make of this. On one hand, yes the losses stink, but on the other...
Throw in 2 of those losses including a back-up QB and one on a one-in-a-trillion punt gone wrong and the sky doesn’t seem to be falling as fast!
Von: In those games we have seen The Trouble With The Snap, The Spot, and O'Korn in two of them. Yes, Michigan is extremely close to being at the very least 3-3 against the rivals, but close doesn't cut it. At the end of the day, all that matters if there is a "W" or an "L" next to that game. At some point, the 1-5 record against rivals will even out, but it has been pretty frustrating to see loss after loss against rivals when that is all that was happening when U-M had Rich Rod and Brady Hoke at the helm (disclaimer: that is not in any way, shape or form a comparison of Harbaugh to either of those two coaches. The results have just simply remained the same.) Anywho, let's get to the overall season, man. A lot of people predicted 8-4 or 9-3. I said 9-3 with losses to Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. I was a JOK interception machine game away from being spot on. What did you have, and how do you feel about this season altogether?
Dan: I was much more optimistic about this season, but I'm not upset with the results. The Speight injury killed this team and the injury to Peters blew their chance at 10 wins. I think the young guys showed growth, and gosh there's so much talent to be excited about next year. Bush, Hudson, and Gary have chances at being All-Americans. Karan could be the best back in the Big Ten. Heck, so could Evans. All of these guys flashed and helped carry the team at certain points. That's a big burden for a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. I think next year's QB, whether Dylan or Brandon, will prove to be an asset for next year's offense. This team really fought hard at the end of the year; beat the teams they should beat, and gave two top 10 teams a hell of a fight. What about you?
Von: I agree. This was always going to be a season of growth and learning, and that is exactly what we saw. Donovan Peoples-Jones wasn't even a starting receiver during Game 1, but by Game 12 he got much better at running routes and a lot of the other things that held him from the starting lineup against Florida. Ruiz and Solomon didn't come on until late, but they got important in-game reps that will help further their progression heading into next season. We didn't see much of Nico Collins or Tarik Black, mainly due to injury, but they proved to be effective weapons when they saw the field, especially Black. Finally, Ambry Thomas really came on as a kick returner and Peoples-Jones also came into his own as a punt returner. Every player I just mentioned is a freshman...this team is going to be loaded with not only talent, but experienced talent next season, and that isn't something we could really say heading into this season.
Dan: Yes it is! Last thing before the Bowl game. Let's do a little superlatives. Team MVP, Team MIP, and "Guy You're Most Excited for 2018"
Von: Team MVP: Chase Winovich. Dude had a hell of a year and is as versatile as they come. Team MIP: Khaleke Hudson. Without him, Don Brown's defense wouldn't work as fluidly as it does, and he put up some insane stats. He is by far the most important player on the team. Lastly, the guy I am most excited for in 2018 is Tarik Black. He had a fantastic beginning to 2017 before breaking a bone in his foot against Air Force. Despite playing just 3 games this year, Black had only 33 less receiving yards than Kekoa Crawford and just 158 less receiving yards than Grant Perry, Michigan's leading receiver! I'm definitely not saying that is all on Black being that good, but he has a chance to put up big numbers next season with an established QB.
Dan: I can't disagree with any of those. I do want to get your "Most Improved". I will add "Important" to my picks as well.
Von: Ahhh, I thought MIP was Most Important Player. Most improved is hard because there aren't a whole lot of guys that could have improved, as most of these guys didn't start last year. I guess I'd say Mike McCray? Down the stretch especially. He had a real rough game against Penn State, but he didn't look back after that game and he had finished the regular season with a bang.
Dan: Interesting take, and McCray is an unexpected answer. I'd say that you could attribute a lot of that improvement to Brown and his decision making. McCray is really solid against the run and has a football IQ off the charts. He doesn't have the athleticism to run with Saquan Barkley or Mike Weber, and Brown utilized his skill-set better later in the year. For my Awards:
MVP - Hudson. My man-crush almost seems ridiculous at this point, but I just continue to be blown away by the year he had. He racked up more forced fumbles, sacks, and tackles for loss than any First-Team Big 10 linebacker or defensive back.
Most Important - The Quarterback. In every Michigan loss this year, QB3 (year's end) played significant time. Michigan went as far as its QB play this year. The Florida game was a microcosm of this.
Improved - Sean McKeon. Who the heck saw this coming? I know the numbers don't absolutely jump off at you, but I think anyone that watched Michigan this year on a consistent basis will tell you what a play-maker he is.
2018 - Donovan Peoples-Jones - DPJ looked A LOT better at the end of the year than the beginning, even if the numbers never really exploded. His route running improved, and he started taking advantage of his immense talent more and more. With an entire off-season of working with the starting QBs and having Tarik Black on the other side, how can you not be excited?
Von: Yeah those are some solid picks. I surely didn’t see McKeon breaking out, and I sure am excited to see Black and DPJ lined up together next year. Now, let’s get into bowl season. It’s not clear where Michigan is going or who they’ll play, but it’s the last chance for these seniors to get a W before they graduate and/or head to the NFL. Is there a team in particular or a specific bowl you’d like to see Michigan play? Also, what’s one big improvement you want to see out of the team in the bowl game?
Dan: I want to go to the Outback Bowl. First, personally I live about 30 minutes from RayJay so the trip would be easy. More importantly though, I think it's a more prestigious game.
New Year’s Day against the SEC. On paper that looks better. I also think the middle of the SEC is very weak this year and it would make for a more favorable matchup than a second tier Pac 12 team in the Holiday Bowl. My heart and brain both say that the Outback Bowl is the best fit for this squad. You?
Von: I really don’t care what bowl they play in honestly. I’m just glad I’ll be able to watch one more Michigan football game before the season officially ends. As lame of an answer as that is, that is honestly how I feel. Of course, it’d be nice if Michigan played against good competition, but it honestly wouldn’t be bad to play a weaker team they could easily defeat to build some confidence heading into next season.
Dan: I feel that my man. Alright, let's wrap this up. Give me your 3 things you want to see when we head into next year.
Von: 1) A CONSISTENT QB. Nuff said. 2) Health. The team battled some serious injuries this season and we never got to see some players I was really looking forward to seeing, like Luiji Vilain. To have great success next year, they are going to have to stay as healthy as possible. 3) Continuity on the offensive line. We saw changes throughout the year on the right side of the line, and some of the changes there messed up the chemistry in both run and pass blocking. Find your starters and keep them there. How about you, man?
DAN: 1) Real QB competition. I know that we are going to see this, but I want to throw it out anyway. This is the first time we’re going to see at least two Harbaugh recruits compete for the job. Rudock, Morris, Speight, O’Korn, Malzone; they’re all gone now. Whether it’s Dylan or Brandon, whoever wins I’m sure will have earned it. 2) Have a surprisingly good early signing day. Not the fastest start to the cycle this year but Harbaugh has always closed big so I’m not worried. 3) Let’s avoid some coaching attrition. We’ve already seen a number of transfers that fell off the depth chart showing the level of depth the talent on this team has reached. Coaches being poached comes next and I have to assume someone is going to make Chris Partridge a DC soon.
That’s all we got this week. As always, leave a comment below. Mailing It In is going on a hiatus until the new year. Until then, Go Blue!