The LSU Tigers are the 2019 National Champions after one of the all-time great seasons in college football, especially from quarterback Joe Burrow. This is yet another year where fans of the Michigan Wolverines were left entertained by the last college game of the year, but left wondering what it’s going to take for their favorite program to reach that level.
Regardless of how you feel about where the program is at or could be heading under Jim Harbaugh heading into his sixth season at the helm of Michigan Football, there were plenty of lessons to be learned from not only Monday night, but from the entire season.
Your quarterback is key
Michigan was a 9-4 team in 2019 because it got 9-4-level quarterback play out of Shea Patterson. 9-4 is an alright record. It’s respectable. Not completely embarrassing and of course there was enough good for nine wins and some fun performances, but when you evaluate what Michigan got out of Patterson in the biggest moments this year, the feeling you’re left with is the same feeling you have when you look at the record.
It’s just “meh.”
With the exception of an out-of-nowhere all-time breakout from Joe Burrow, every team in the College Football Playoff was quarterbacked by players who were able to get on the field extremely early in their college careers.
Jalen Hurts as a starter at Alabama as a freshman before transferring to Oklahoma as a senior. Justin Fields was too good to be on the bench behind Jake Fromm at Georgia and had a Heisman-caliber season as a sophomore at Ohio State. Trevor Lawrence was a special talent coming out of high school and won a national title as a true freshman and got his team back there this year.
After last season, Michigan recognized how important it was to empower your quarterback and put them in control of the offense, hence the switch to Josh Gattis. It took time, but that system worked. The problem was that they did not have a guy anywhere close to the caliber of what the elite teams in the country had despite Patterson being a former five-star recruit. That’s no disrespect to him. That is just the reality of the situation.
The Wolverines have a modern and effective offensive scheme in place now, so the foundation was set by Patterson and he deserves a tip of the hat for that. But Michigan’s ceiling as a program now is dependent on elite quarterback play, as is the case with the rest of college football teams waiting in the weeds to break out.
Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton will battle all spring and summer for the right to lead this team for presumably the next two seasons with the runner-up likely to transfer. Then, a five-star comes in 2021 with JJ McCarthy on campus. Michigan’s future at quarterback is exciting regardless, but you have now seen what needs to happen at that position for them to be a contender.
Offense has to got to be aggressive at all times and you have to be opportunistic on defense
All of the teams in the playoff were machines offensively and were always in attack mode. Michigan took a step to being that with Gattis and it came along as the season went on. Despite it taking longer than any of us had hoped, we did see what Michigan could be when it was firing on all cylinders and for about 1.5 quarters against Ohio State, they were going toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes offensively. What they are trying to do works.
Because of how potent offenses are now, your defense simply needs to be opportunistic and get off the field in critical moments because there’s a good chance you’re going to be giving up 30-plus points in any game you play against an elite opponent. Oddly enough, that’s where I come away with a little less heat on Don Brown. You’re just going to get scored on when you play the Ohio States of the world, but what you can’t do is just let them roll down the field every time they have the ball. A turnover, a sack (or heck, even just a QB pressure) or a pass breakup in a given moment can be the difference in a game and when you miss those opportunities and they snowball, things like 62-39 and 55-27 happen.
I’m not absolving the guy. He needs to be better and what has happened in games against Wisconsin and Penn State is far more damning than what happens against OSU, but again, just an observation. Brent Venables is arguably the best defensive coordinator in college football and just got blitzed for 42 points on the biggest stage.
Get out of your own way
Simply put, championship teams do not hurt themselves along the way and Michigan has too many shotgun blasts to the foot to count at this point. They were an avoided upset at Iowa or fourth down spot away from the Big Ten title game in 2016 and a no-show in Columbus in 2018 away from being there, as well. A lack of preparation and self-inflicted mistakes in the largest of moments are as synonymous with the program as the winged helmet or “Hail to the Victors” is at this point. It would be fun to see what Michigan could accomplish under Harbaugh if they could find a way to just stay out of their own way.
It’s like watching a different sport sometimes
I thought I would have more to write here, but this one kind of goes hand-in-hand with what we just discussed above and is summed up perfectly by our pal Ant Wright.
These teams make football look fun and easy— ᗩᑎT ᗯᖇIGᕼT (@ItsAntWright) January 14, 2020
Michigan makes football look painful and high in difficulty
Football is supposed to be fun and often times, Michigan does not look or seem like it’s having much fun unless they are rolling Rutgers or Maryland. The pressure continues to rise from the exterior, but Harbaugh needs to find a way to take it off of the guys in the building. It does not feel like a coincidence that they played their best football of the season once they were eliminated from Big Ten East contention with the loss at Penn State.
What were your takeaways from the 2019 season and how Michigan can grow from it? Sound off below.