2019-20 Michigan Football Preview

It’s about that time of year….fortunately or unfortunately depending on your outlook for this coming season. The 18-19 season finished with yet another thud…a pathetic performance against Ohio State and a disgraceful one against Florida. I do not love the comments coming out of Ann Arbor from Don Brown saying that they’re not going to adjust or go away from their perceived strengths because they do not want players to lose confidence in what they’re currently running.

To me that’s a pretty asinine way of thinking. If you’re getting absolutely pummeled, that’s going to make you lose confidence in yourself and your team more than a coach trying to adjust to an opponent gameplan. It’s surprising that this has been said publicly when Jim Harbaugh has shown he will do absolutely anything and adjust in any manner necessary to try and win.

This year he brought in Josh Gattis to run the offense. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you will have heard all about the “Speed In Space”…for me, it’s catchy, but until I see it have success, I’m not going to drink the Kool-Aid. I’m glad that the offense will have more tempo in it. In year’s past they struggled mightily to do anything quickly and a two-minute offense was really about a six-minute offense. Gattis is a first time playcaller so we’ll have to see how comfortable he is. I’s one thing to design an offense and gameplan…it’s another to call plays and dial up everything at the right time to have success.

OFFENSE

This is bar none the best quarterback room that Michigan has had under Jim Harbaugh and quite possibly the most talented in the history of the school. That’s not a hot take either, that’s a fact. Brandon Peters could not sniff the Top 3 of the depth chart and so he grad transferred (smartly waiting until the year ended so he could have 2 years of eligibility), and he is going to start at Illinois. Shea Patterson is going to start, but just like last year, I expect Dylan McCaffrey to get his touches. They say if you have 2 quarterbacks that you actually have 0 but this would have to be the exception to the rule. McCaffrey is going to have his package because he’s too much of a playmaker with the ball in his hands to keep him off the field. Shea will still be “the man” and everything that has been uttered in the media is that he was tailor-made for this offense. Shea did a great job adjusting to being under center last year and I think that going back to his natural style will help him, even though he had one of the most efficient seasons ever at Michigan. Joe Milton may get some game action after keeping his redshirt intact and it’s possible that Cade McNamara could play as well…both of them have talent but neither one is in the top 2 and should not see any serious minutes.

Alright, running back. What is there really to say about running back? It’s a complete train wreck of inexperience, but there is talent. Losing Chris Evans was subpar, even though he’s a tweener back, they desperately needed someone with experience. Right now Tru Wilson, Christian Turner and Zach Charbonnet should be the backs that contribute the most. A walk-on, a redshirt freshman and a true freshman. Hassan Haskins and Ben VanSumeren will likely get some run as well, but it will be up to the first three to get the job done. Wilson looks like a capable back and Turner showed some big time flashes on plays last year. Charbonnet is the true wildcard…he’s the mega-stud recruit and has the athletic frame and profile. Missing spring ball with an injury certainly hurt his development but hopefully he has had enough time over the summer and fall camp to get things squared away and stay healthy. For my money, if I had to guess, Charbonnet will end up being the starter most of the year.

Wide receiver is easily the strength of the offense, if everyone can stay healthy. Which as it turns out is a massive if. Donovan Peoples-Jones was banged up during the spring and Tarik Black should be back to normal by now. Who knows how healthy either one is, but both will be Top 3 round draft picks if they can stay healthy for a season. Nico Collins is a monster and Ronnie Bell turned out to be a total diamond in the rough. Losing Oliver Martin was suboptimal but the emergence of Mike Sainristil obviously helped facilitate that. It seems like Sainristil is one of the fastest players on the team and is going to be a guy they try to get the ball to quite often. Between these five guys, they should have plenty of playmakers to have “speed in space.”

Tight end is going to be interesting this year since it’s not going to be a pro style offense. I’m not sure how a guy like Sean McKeon is going to adapt but this offense should be a perfect fit for a guy like Nick Eubanks and Mustapha Muhammad. Erick All is a player that Harbaugh has mentioned by name and that is always a good sign when you’re a freshman. I expect McKeon to be the de facto starter as the season begins but I would expect a heavy dose of Nick Eubanks acting like Eric Ebron in the slot.

The offensive line took a marginal hit when Andrew Steuber got hurt. I’m not a big fan of his after the way he played last year in limited time, but with a torn ACL, we’re never going to know if he got better or not this spring and fall. Truly unfortunate but I have a firm believe that Jalen Mayfield is going to be good for this offensive line.

The starting OL should look just like this:

LT: Jon Runyan Jr LG: Ben Bredeson C: Cesar Ruiz RG: Michael Onwenu RT: Jalen Mayfield

It should be the best offensive line that Michigan has had since like the 2011-12 team that played in the Sugar Bowl. How they’re going to adjust to the new offense will be interesting, but they should all have a good enough athletic profile that they will be just fine. Keep an eye on Ryan Hayes as the backup swing tackle too…never ideal when your backup swing tackle is a true frosh.

DEFENSE

Ah yes, the defense. This defense has talent. Lots of young talent. Not a lot of experience. And the defensive tackle position gives me hives.

The defensive line will have returning experience at the defensive end spots with Aidan Hutchinson, Kwity Paye and Josh Uche depending on the alignment. Mike Danna is a grad transfer from Central Michigan and I would expect him to get a long hard look at starting. Luiji Vilain will add some depth as well and I would expect all five of these guys to get the majority of the playing time.

The defensive tackle spot is a little less clear. I mean, who the options are is pretty clear cut, but who is going to play the most is up in the air. I would assume Carlo Kemp has one of the starting spots locked down and then you have Michael Dwumfour, Ben Mason (yes, Ben Mason), Donovan Jeter, Chris Hinton and Mazi Smith. Hinton and Smith are true freshmen, Mason played fullback last year, Dwumfour was hurt a lot and the other two struggled to get regular playing time last year. Not exactly encouraging for stopping the run up the middle. Losing Aubrey Solomon as a transfer was an absolute killer, he would have been a huge piece to keep in the rotation. Hinton and Smith could be big-time players, but as freshmen, it is tough to know what to expect. Mason is going to have to be one of the most versatile/strong football players ever to pull off this switch and not get completely washed away against teams like Wisconsin.

Linebacker, like the defensive line, suffered some losses to the draft and there is going to be some inexperience in the mix now. Devin Bush may be one of the best linebackers in Michigan history and he is not coming back. I’m hoping that Josh Ross can be half as good as Bush this coming year. It would obviously be a downgrade, but not everyone can be Devin Bush. Khaleke Hudson returning is massive and the linebackers will be phenomenal athletes at the very least. Devin Gil will probably be the starter at weakside linebacker again while Cam McGrone, Jordan Anthony and Anthony Solomon should rotate in. Jordan Glasgow and Michael Barrett will be the backups at the VIPER spots, but I do not expect them to get much playing time so long as Khaleke is healthy and the game is in question. I’m very interested in McGrone/Jordan Anthony/Anthony Solomon and see where they contribute and how often. Ross and Gil are pretty solidified as the starters and it’ll be interesting to see if anyone can push them.

Cornerback was going to be good until David Long went to the draft and Ambry Thomas got Colitis. Now Lavert Hill will have Vince Gray starting opposite him and Jaylen Kelly-Powell will be in the slot. Once Ambry has his strength back I fully expect him to be able to contribute and play, but who knows when or if that will be. Having a redshirt freshman starting on the outside is a bit of a concern, so hopefully Thomas will be ready soon. Not to mention the fact that Kelly-Powell is better at safety, in my opinion, and now he’s going to be working in the slot.

Safety is going to be interesting with Josh Metellus and Brad Hawkins as the supposed starters with J’Marick Woods and Daxton Hill pushing them for playing time. Personally, I expect Hawkins to be replaced by Woods or Hill at some point during the season. But then again, with the issues at corner, it would not shock me to see Hill make a move to the slot once Thomas is back for Gray. We’ll have to see how everything shakes out. There’s a lot of talent between Woods and Hill and I cannot imagine they will be riding the pine pony for long.

FRESHMEN TO WATCH

Earlier in the week Harbaugh said that 6-7 freshmen will play on each side of the ball. I’m not sure how 12-13 freshmen will actually play with the current schedule to be honest. I can see 12-13 freshmen playing a bit and staying under the 4 games so that they can keep their redshirt, but I cannot see them all playing significantly and not redshirting. Unless of course he is going to have a fair amount of them contributing on special teams because of the lack of depth/experience currently on the roster, which would be a pretty big change for Harbaugh since it is usually starters/experienced players on special teams.

The big name freshmen to keep an eye on that I do not expect to redshirt are Zach Charbonnet, Mike Sainristil and Erick All on offense. I expect Charbonnet and Sainristil to get significant touches and I would keep an eye on Sainristil possibly being the kick returner. With how fast he is, it’s going to be tough to keep the ball out of his hands. And as I said before, I expect Charbonnet to be the starting running back when it is all said and done. Ryan Hayes will be the backup swing tackle, so I expect him to play when the game is over and hopefully not at all before then *knock on wood*.

On defense, Chris Hinton and Mazi Smith will absolutely be in the mix on the defensive line and in the rotation. And obviously Dax Hill is going to get some big time run at safety. The defensive line needs all the help it can get and an athlete like Dax Hill is damn near impossible to keep off the field.

Some other names that Harbaugh mentioned in the media were Giles Jackson, Cornelius Johnson, David Ojabo, DJ Turner and Caden Kolesar. Everyone except Ojabo was mentioned almost solely for their play on special teams so it must be his plan to use freshmen/non-starters on special teams for a change. So really, outside of those first six names I mentioned, and Ryan Hayes as the backup swing tackle, I’m not sure how much the rest will end up playing.

DEPTH CHART

This is something I just whipped up quickly, I’m sure someone with more knowledge than myself has a better one. I’ve got Uche listed at DE/SLB…I think he’ll stand up at the linebacker spot when they take a corner off of the field. Obviously, Ambry Thomas is listed as a backup at the moment but we will absolutely start opposite Hill once he is healthy.

SEASON PREDICTION

2019 Michigan Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time/TV Prediction
Saturday
Aug. 31
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders 7:30pm ET BTN W
Saturday
Sep. 7
Army Black Knights 12:00pm ET FOX L
Saturday
Sep. 14
OFF
Saturday
Sep. 21
at 19 Wisconsin Badgers 12:00pm ETFOX W
Saturday
Sep. 28
Rutgers Scarlet Knights Time TBA ET TV TBA W
Saturday
Oct. 5
20 Iowa Hawkeyes (HC) 12:00pm ETTV TBA W
Saturday
Oct. 12
at Illinois Fighting Illini Time TBA ETABC/ESPN/2 TBA W
Saturday
Oct. 19
at 15 Penn State Nittany Lions Time TBA ETTV TBA W
Saturday
Oct. 26
9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Time TBA ETABC/ESPN/2 TBA W
Saturday
Nov. 2
at Maryland Terrapins 12:00pm ETTV TBA W
Saturday
Nov. 9
OFF
Saturday
Nov. 16
18 Michigan State Spartans Time TBA ETTV TBA W
Saturday
Nov. 23
at Indiana Hoosiers Time TBA ETTV TBA W
Saturday
Nov. 30
5 Ohio State Buckeyes 12:00pm ETFOX L

Alright, now we’re into the meat of the article. I’m sorry if you’re drinking the Kool-Aid about this being a Top 4 or 5 team, Big Ten Champs and a Playoff contender. I do not understand how this hype train got started but it certainly is not stopping now. Sure, everyone is excited that there is a new offensive coordinator and there’s an entirely new offense. But let’s not forget that the offense scored plenty of points against Ohio State to win…if the defense had done it’s job. Last year I said Michigan could win any game where the defense kept their opponent to 28 points or less. This year Michigan might have to score 35 points or more to win. The book is now out on how to shred the Michigan defense after Ohio State and Florida did it in back-to-back games. I’m still seeing crossing routes every night I go to sleep so I can only imagine how Don Brown feels. He was defiant this summer about his system and does not seem keen on switching in-game. If Michigan does not run more zone against these spread teams then they will get filled in again. There’s really no way around it.

Do I think this team could go 12-0 and make the playoff? Absolutely. This team 100% has the ability/talent to run the table and make the playoff. But their inexperience, lack of depth at key positions, and coaching has me concerned.

Now, do not get me wrong, I’m not saying any of the coaches are bad. What I’m saying is we have no clue how Josh Gattis will be as a play caller. And we have no idea what this offense will really look like. Sure they have been selling the “speed in space” catch phrase and yeah, it’ll be a Run-N-Shoot offense out of the Shotgun and Pistol. But we do not know how the offense will execute it against a defense that is not their own. And neither do they. They’ve never run it against an opponent before. There will be growing pains. Probably not against MTSU, but after that? There will be. As for Don, it just makes me mega-concerned that he seems completely against switching anything up in-game. You have to be able to make adjustments and I cannot believe Harbaugh would be okay with something like this when he is constantly changing coordinators/game plans.

Now you’re looking at that schedule and you’re like “oh my god how can he think they’re going to lose to Army??” Well, Army gave Oklahoma all they could handle. They will hold onto the ball and they will kill you with 1,000 cuts. You’ll say, “well Oklahoma’s defense is way worse than Michigan’s”. I mean, maybe last year. Michigan has major inexperience at defensive tackle, they have a new MIKE linebacker and their secondary is wildly inexperienced and worse than last year. Who is going to make tackles? And what happens when Army keeps running the option and handing it off to the fullback up the middle? Playing against the triple option is all about being disciplined and doing your job, and who knows how the inexperienced guys will react. Not to mention that the issues on defense matchup perfectly for Army to exploit. STOP SCHEDULING THE ACADEMIES AND OTHER SCHOOLS THAT RUN THE OPTION FOR NON-CONFERENCE GAMES.

I’m not overly impressed with the Big Ten this year either. Wisconsin has a strong running attack and Iowa has some talent, but neither team from the West scares me too much. Penn State at night could be a problem but I don’t think their team is very good. Notre Dame is a toss up game but I’ll give Michigan the edge at home (probably at night). Either way I see this as a 9-3 or 10-2 team. I do not see how it can be anything else at this point, there are just too many question marks at the moment. Maybe I’m being too negative after the OSU game and the bowl game….maybe everyone else is drinking too much Kool-Aid…either way, we get to find out Saturday. Go Blue.

[Photo via: Freep]
[Photo via: Freep]
[Photo via: University of Michigan]

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