2019 Season Preview: Michigan Wolverines

By John Morgan on August 13, 2019 at 9:30 am
Dec 29, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Shea Patterson (2) attempts a pass during the third quarter against the Florida Gators in the 2018 Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
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Entering its fifth season, the Jim Harbaugh era has been a roller coaster ride for Michigan fans. For the first time since the Lloyd Carr era, Michigan has won 10 games in three out of four seasons. On the other side of that coin, Michigan is 1-9 against top 10 opponents, 0-4 against Ohio State, 1-3 in bowl games, and has not won a Big Ten title. Yeesh.

Last year, the defense was on a historic pace before being throttled by Ohio State. Some significant pieces from that unit are gone, but Don Brown's unit is never short on talent and will set to reload with a new crop of younger players surrounded by key veterans. Offensively, there are a ton of talented pieces already in place and will allegedly be running a much more up-tempo offense under former Penn State assistant Josh Gattis.

Of course, Michigan has been loaded before. The question is whether or not this is the year Harbaugh's Wolverines can put it all together and win the school's first Big Ten title in 15 years.


MICHIGAN AT A GLANCE
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh (5th Season; 38-14 at Michigan, 67-35 overall)
2018 Record 10-3, 8-1 (2nd Place Big Ten East)
2018 Postseason Peach Bowl (41-15 loss to Florida)
Biggest Losses LB Devin Bush, DE Rashan Gary, DE Chase Winovich, CB David Long, RB Karan Higdon, TE Zach Gentry
Biggest Returnees QB Shea Patterson, WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR Nico Collins, WR Tarik Black, TE Sean McKeon, LT Jon Runyan Jr., LG Ben Bredeson, C Cesar Ruiz, RG Michael Onwenu, DE: Kwity Paye, DE: Aidan Hutchinson, DE/LB Josh Uche, LB/S Khaleke Hudson, CB Lavert Hill, S Josh Metellus, P Will Hart
Summary After being 1 game away from a division crown, Michigan's season ended with two anticlimactic losses.
Matchup with PSU Three blowouts in a row with Michigan winning 2 of the last three sets up a 2019 battle that could be the most evenly matched game in some time.

OFFENSE

With Gattis now running the offense, he brings his “Speed in Space” run/pass option offense to Ann Arbor. The new offense seems to be a perfect match for quarterback Shea Patterson. Last season, he threw for 2,600 yards with a completion percentage of  64.6 along with twenty-four total touchdowns. Should Patterson succumb to the injury bug, redshirt sophomore Dylan McCaffrey is a capable backup who should see some early-season playing time. He has an incredibly bright future.

The biggest question mark on the Michigan offense comes at running back with the expected departure of Karan Higdon and the unexpected loss of Chris Evans, who is suspended for the season. The duo combined for 1,601 yards and fourteen touchdowns in 2018. Michigan will turn to former walk-on Tru Wilson, though redshirt freshman Christian Turner and highly touted freshman Zach Charbonnet will also be in the mix for carries.

Donovan Peoples-Jones
Donovan Peoples-Jones has still yet to reach his full potential. Could 2019 be the year that happens? (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan should make-up for a lack of experience at running back with a very talented wide receiver group. They will be led by juniors Donovan Peoples-Jones (47 receptions, 612 yards, eight touchdowns) and Nico Collins (38 receptions, 632 yards, six touchdowns). Redshirt sophomore Tarik Black is healthy after battling foot issues each of the past two seasons. True freshman Mike Sainristil is expected to play in the slot in four-wide receiver sets.

Ex-Ohio State offensive coordinator, Ed Warinner, revamped this offensive line a season ago and this year's unit should be one of the best in the Big Ten and the country. The Wolverines return four players that were named to All-Big Ten teams including first-team left tackle Jon Runyan Jr. Also returning are guards Ben Bredeson and Michael Onwenu, as well as junior center Cesar Ruiz.

On paper, this should be the best offense of the Harbaugh era. Gattis, who has never had full control of an offense before (depending on who you ask, at least), supposedly has Harbaugh's blessing to do as he pleases. Well, you know, at least for now.

DEFENSE

Last year Michigan entered the Ohio State game allowing only 13.5 points and 235 yards per game. Ohio State and Florida proceeded to hang 103 points and 995 yards on that vaunted defense. For the first time under Harbaugh, Michigan's defense has more questions than answers.

First-team All-Big Ten defensive end Chase Winovich and defensive lineman Rashan Gary have moved on to the NFL. Still, Michigan coaches have said this is the fastest defense they have had under Harbaugh. Expectations are high for junior defensive ends Kwity Paye, who had 5.5 tackles for losses and two sacks last season and Aidan Hutchinson. The middle of the defense will be anchored by former Penn State commit Michael Dwumfour and senior Carlo Kemp. Josh Uche, who looks like he'll be a moving chess piece for defensive coordinator Don Brown, is also a terror off the edge (7.0 sacks in 2018).

All-American and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Devin Bush, is now playing on Sundays, leaving a massive void in the middle of the defense. The linebacker group will be led by part-time starters from last year junior Josh Ross and redshirt junior Devin Gil who combined for 8.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Senior Khaleke Hudson is back to man the Viper position. Hudson is looking for a bounce-back season after posting 17.5 tackles for losses as a sophomore, but only three last year. Still, to expect any of these guys to provide what Bush provided would be foolish.

The biggest question mark going into 2019 for Michigan’s defense is the secondary, which surely still hasn't gotten over being torched by Ohio State a season ago. First-team All-Big Ten cornerback Lavert Hill is back for his senior season, as well as second-team safety Josh Metellus. Daxton Hill, the top-rated safety in the 2019 recruiting class, will be counted on to contribute meaningful minutes on the back end.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Michigan returns 1st team All-Big Ten redshirt junior punter Will Hart (47 yards per kick) and 3rd team All-Big Ten junior punt returner Donovan Peoples-Jones (10 yards per return, one touchdown). Former Penn State commit and redshirt junior Quinn Nordin (11 of 16 field goals made) and sophomore Jake Moody (10 of 11 field goals made) are back to battle it out at placekicker.

2019 OUTLOOK

For the first time in more than a decade, Michigan is the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten (depending on who you ask, of course). The Wolverines face a tricky home game against an 11-win Army triple-option squad and a road trip to Camp Randall to square off against Wisconsin in September. October sees the Wolverines facing off against Iowa and traveling to Penn State before a rare, late out-of-conference game against Notre Dame. After an early-November trip to Maryland, they close out the regular season with home games against rivals Michigan State and Ohio State, with a sneaky-dangerous trip to Bloomington to face the Hoosiers sandwiched between them.

Once again, you could make the argument that this is overall, the most talented team of Harbaugh's time at Michigan. The schedule is difficult but manageable with five of Michigan’s seven toughest-looking games being played in Ann Arbor. With Urban Meyer gone at Ohio State, a new quarterback at Penn State, and Michigan State's question marks on offense, Michigan's best shot to make it to Indianapolis may be upon it. If Harbaugh can't win the division with the roster he has this year, the locals might start to wonder if he ever will.

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