Michigan Football is ready to make the 2021 season a good one with a new starting quarterback and a bevy of assistant coaching changes.
Can Michigan get back on track this season? If they’re going to do so here are five reasons aid that quest.
Michigan’s defense turns it around under DC Mike Macdonald
Michigan has a mostly revamped defensive staff consisting of coaches who’ve had success in the past:
- Shaun Nua- defensive line coach
- George Helow- linebackers coach
- Steve Clinkscale- defensive backs coach
- Ron Bellamy- safeties coach
- Mike Macdonald- defensive coordinator
The only holdover on the defensive staff is Shaun Nua, and along with the new hires has came a new energy to the defense. “Everyone in this building, every single coach, it’s kind of ecstatic and you can kind of feel that high energy in practice,” defensive end Aidan Hutchinson said. “In practice I’ve seen some energy, some things I haven’t seen in three years of being on this team. Just those little things that you can tell guys just want to play ball, guys are just fired up.”
Energy along with execution will go a long way in righting the wrongs the unit made a season ago. Former defensive coordinator Don Brown continued to be outschemed and couldn’t adjust accordingly in the middle of battle. Wholesale changes had to be made.
“It’s almost like a scrimmage, almost like a scrimmage is going on, ideas are flowing and getting talked through, and it’s a fun, exciting room. You can tell that there’s trust,” Harbaugh said about the defensive coaches. “You can tell that there’s trust in the room. Guys can speak their mind and be heard and then they bat it around and they get to a good result. So that’s been tremendous.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald comes to Michigan after being part of a consistently good Baltimore Ravens defense where he excelled as linebackers coach — there are sure to be wrinkles from Baltimore defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s creative and multiple scheme incorporated into Michigan game plans this season.
McNamara will get the job done
Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara was named QB1 heading into fall camp,
“Most definitely Cade is No. 1,” running back Hassan Haskins said. “He’s been doing a great job. I trust him, like that big word — trust. I definitely trust Cade.”
McNamara displayed energy and the ability to read defenses pre-snap and make quick decisions during his time on the field in 2020. Most notably McNamara relieved Joe Milton with Michigan down 17-0 to Rutgers, and led one of the biggest comebacks in Michigan history with a 48-42 triple overtime win. His high-clip of execution, to the tune of 27-of-36 for 260 yards and 4 TDs vs. Rutgers helped open up Michigan’s rushing attack, something that he may be able to do consistently in 2021. Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum can become a good 1-2 punch out of the backfield, but they need their QB to perform at a high level so the box isn’t stacked against them.
While the offense needs to perform well as a whole and operate in sync, no position is more important than the quarterback, and Michigan needs McNamara to not only be a player who doesn’t make mistakes, they need him to attack, and then attack some more. The offense needs to have an edge, a killer instinct about them — and that starts at quarterback, that starts with McNamara.
The pass-rush gets home this season
Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald comes from a scheme that blitzed in abundance. The Ravens D was No. 1 in blitz percentage last season at 44.1%.
While Michigan’s defense might be multiple, it’s going to be blitz-heavy, with blitzes coming from a wide variety of angles. “I think this defense is going to give us a chance to eat,” linebacker Taylor Upshaw said in April. “I think it’s going to give us a chance to show our true ability. And when you see us on Saturdays, we’re going to be reapers. We’re going to be wreaking havoc.”
Aidan Hutchinson is happy with how he’ll be utilized. “You just look at any of the EDGE guys from the Ravens and that’s what I should look like,” Hutchinson said. Defensive ends will be standing up at times instead of putting their hand in the dirt, and a player like Hutchinson is bound to become a hybrid DE/OLB in the new scheme. The 6-foot-6, 269 pound Hutchinson could easily surpass his career highs of 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks set in 2019.
Linebacker Josh Ross mentioned at Big Ten Media Days that he gets to fly downhill more in the new scheme — expect more flying around period from Macdonald’s defense — it’ll be a diverse scheme but one constant that will remain is aggressiveness.
Michigan’s able to lean on the running game
There are certain positions where it’s to be determined in terms of overall consistency — running back is not one of those. Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum are both quality options at the top of the depth chart, and at No. 3 there’s true freshman Donovan Edwards who Jim Harbaugh said will have a role game one.
Haskins has shown he can be a powerful back who gets better as the game goes on. “Whatever the play is (run) blocked for he’s at least getting another yard or two”, Harbaugh said. “If it’s blocked for zero, he’s probably going to get one-yard. If it’s blocked for two he will get four, if it’s blocked for four he’ll get six. He’s a real football player.
Corum, someone who was known for his speed a season ago has bulked up this winter and spring and has a lot more muscles than last year. Corum will be an asset as a pass-catcher out of the backfield on top of his duties as a rusher.
Edwards, although he’s a freshman, has turned heads already because of his blazing speed. Harbaugh said “Donovan is going to be really good”.
Michigan’s mental attitude and perseverance prevails
Coaches can coach all they want and scheme up the perfect plan, but if the players aren’t bought in, they aren’t wanting to get to the top of the mountain, if they aren’t ready to give it their all, a season can spiral out of control in a hurry.
“I actually didn’t think about culture too much until probably last year or this year. I thought it was more about Xs and Os and about being in the right gap or guys not being in the right gap, and that’s why we’re losing ballgames,” Hutchinson said. “I was kind of enlightened by (Mike Macdonald). He came in and we kind of discussed this, talking about culture and the importance of it. And he kind of opened my eyes to how you can have the greatest Xs and Os or the greatest plays, but if your team is not fully bought in and 1,000 percent invested in what you’re doing, it’s going to fail.”
Michigan isn’t going to be picked to go far this season, the team has already hear the worst comments they possibly can about the team and themselves personally. At this point the criticism has been watered down, they’ve heard it all before and are chugging along with a willingness to be the criticized underdog.
“We want to be the underdog. We want everybody to say whatever you want to say, because we know the work we’ve been putting in, and nobody has been seeing the work we’ve put in but us,” Josh Ross said. “They’ll see it when we show it.”