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What we learned at the Peach Bowl: Michigan has a lot of work to do in 2019

The Wolverines were once again routed by a ranked opponent

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Florida vs Michigan Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines were embarrassed by the Florida Gators on Saturday in blowout fashion. The Gators led by just 3 points heading into the half, but scored 28 points in the second half to just 5 points by the Wolverines. Thus, the Gators dominated the Wolverines 41-15 in the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl.

For the third straight year Jim Harbaugh and Michigan have ended the year on multi-game losing streaks. Harbaugh also moved to 1-3 in bowl games as the head coach in Ann Arbor. With the constant failure towards the end of the season by the Wolverines and Harbaugh’s poor performances in big games, the Wolverines have a lot of work to do if they want to change the tide and make this team a contending one.

Don Brown has to show adaptability on defense

Brown has built his defense on a man-to-man basis. The secondary is consistently pressuring receivers and linebackers have to keep up with more nimble and mobile running backs out of the backfield. This is great when the Wolverines face inferior competition with inferior players. The Wolverines recruit well, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and have better players than most of the teams in the conference.

However, when Michigan faces highly talented teams with speed and strength, the coaching makes the largest difference. Brown’s man-to-man defense can dominate the weaker teams and maybe even some contenders for a quarter or a half, but the halftime adjustments made by opposing coaches do the trick and Brown’s scheme is exposed.

We saw just this from Urban Meyer a few weeks ago when Devin Gil and Brandon Watson were being constantly picked on by the quicker athletes on the Buckeye offense. We even saw Meyer tell his quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, to keep the ball and scramble for some yardage; something Haskins didn’t do often this season.

This set the precedent for any other team to follow to breakdown the stubborn Don Brown defense. Florida watched every bit of tape from the unraveling of the Michigan D and copied it in their game planning. The Gators’ QB Feleipe Franks ran for 75 yards against Michigan, they picked on Devin Gil and Josh Metellus in coverage, and this overall led to the Wolverine defense to be torn apart.

The Michigan defense had a good season. They were one of the top ranked defenses in the country for a majority of the season, but it was more of a fluke than anything. While it is impressive to hold any offense to less than 200 yards of offense in a game by playing a man-to-man style beat down defense, it isn’t an accurate depiction of how good the defense actually was. Sadly, because of Brown’s stubbornness in the man-to-man defense, 2018 will be remembered as the year Michigan was smoked by Ohio State and Florida to end the season.

Karan Higdon was the MVP of the offense this year

When Higdon announced he was not going to play in the pro bowl it came to a bit of surprise to many of the Michigan faithful. Not many projections have him much highly ranked in the draft process, but he still decided to make the ultimate decision to focus on his NFL career.

I don’t blame him. He should be much higher on some teams big boards. Higdon has been an absolute force coming out of the Wolverines’ backfield this year. He finished the year with 224 carries for 1178 yards after he just missed the century mark last season on the ground. When Higdon was hot, Michigan was hot as the Wolverines went undefeated this year when he surpassed 100 yards on the ground.

There was a ton of growth for Higdon between last season and this year. The most notable was the amount of muscle he put on which was rumored to be around 15 pounds.

With his combination of size and speed, Higdon became the prototype RB in Jim Harbaugh’s system. He had the power to break through fairly average blocking from an overall mediocre offensive line and the speed to pull away when he hit the second line of defense.

Higdon’s worth was shown futhermore as he sat out against Florida. The Gators held Michigan to just 77 yards rushing on 30 attempts. Christian Turner was praised in the preparation for the ballgame, but was given just seven carries for 32 yards. And Chris Evans only had seven carries for 20 yards. Neither were able to find their grove in the game like Higdon did week after week during the regular season. If the power run is what Harbaugh is going to keep, they have to find a running back that can produce in similar fashion to how Higdon performed this past season.

What we don’t know

There is no doubt that Michigan has some work to do to become legitimate contenders next season. Ideally Michigan would make some changes in the coaching staff, however Harbaugh told the media to not expect many. Don Brown needs to take this offseason to understand the flaws in a man-to-man defense and learn a zone system that will compliment his gritty and aggressive style.

Offensively, Michigan has to find their next Karan Higdon if they wish to be successful in their “body blow” style of offense. Hopefully Evans, Turner, or incoming freshman Zach Charbonnet can fill this role and set a tone for the offense next season if no schematic changes are made by September.