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Michigan needs to establish identity, get creative on offense in 2018

Easier said than done, but absolutely attainable.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Outback Bowl - Michigan v South Carolina Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’ve done a lot of thinking since Michigan’s embarrassing 26-19 choke-job against South Carolina yesterday, and I’m sure you have, too.

Yes, it was a horrendous way to begin the new year, and it was the biggest choke-job I may have ever seen from a Michigan football team. But the fact of the matter is the 2017 team was never supposed to be elite.

This was supposed to be a year of learning for the young Wolverines, and I think in a lot of ways learning did take place on defense. The defense started off extremely strong, to everyone’s surprise, but broke down in the latter half of the season, also to everyone’s surprise. The defense learned to play in just about every scenario — being down late in the game, being up big at any point, flexing the muscles in overtime, and so on.

What was not supposed to happen this season was the offensive coaching staff take a dramatic step back from where they were at a season ago.

Throughout the first month or so of the season, national and local media members alike were stating how the offense had yet to find its identity. As the season went on, it seemed like Michigan had found it — downhill running with a gap scheme that heavily relied on the interior line.

All that stuff worked against the bottom of the barrel Big Ten teams, but the team ran for just 77.3 yards on average against Wisconsin, Ohio State and South Carolina. The offense’s identity went missing in those final three games and never came back.

But at least the identity was there for a few games this season. Something that never showed up on offense was creativity, and that is something that even South Carolina cornerback JaMarcus King saw during the game.

Here is what King had to say about the Wolverine offense:

“They gave us everything (during the first two drives). After that, we knew we could stop everything.”

King backed up that comment by saying Michigan’s receivers consistently ran the same routes, leading to South Carolina players being in a position to succeed more often than not.

AKA: Zero creativeness.

The offensive coaching staff had more than a month to prepare the game plan, and the only wrinkle they used was a handoff to tight end Sean McKeon. The worst part of that play isn’t even that McKeon fumbled, but the fact that the team had the wrong personnel on the field, according to Harbaugh, and Brandon Peters still decided to run the play.

Coaching errors. Execution errors. Mental errors. All of that led to yesterday’s disaster.

If there are coaching changes made this offseason, I absolutely expect it to be from the OC position — Tim Drevno. If that’s the case, Harbaugh is going to have to bring in a versatile offensive coordinator who can:

  • Put players in a position to succeed
  • Get creative on offense (which means get some trickery involved every once in a while and build the offense around your players, not the playbook Bo had in the ‘80s)
  • Get good and consistent play from the offensive line in both areas of the offense
  • Not let up the gas when the team is up by two or more touchdowns

These are four things we either seldom saw or did not see at all from the offense this season. And if those four things do happen, any quarterback recruited by Harbaugh should be able to play good enough to get W’s — even Brandon Peters after yesterday’s poor performance.

The bottom line is 2018 is going to be the biggest season in Harbaugh’s tenure to date. No more excuses. No more whining. No more honeymoon. Get it done, coach.