1. It’s the Little Things
There are lots of little things in a football game that can really add up over time. Special teams can play a subtle role even without big returns or long field goals. Jabrill Peppers ability to field punts (he is a fair catch machine), and the coaching staff’s trust in him to do so, save the Wolverines tons of field position over the course of the game. That coupled with punter Blake O’Neils ability to drop punts inside the 20 with ease, and often inside the 10, mean that Michigan can win the field position game. That is huge when you have a great defense and not a high powered offense.
2. Jourdan Lewis
Jourdan Lewis is quietly one of the best cornerbacks in FBS right now. MGoBlog referenced This tweet about how much of a shutdown corner he has been. Those numbers are sick. Especially when you consider that he is almost always on the #1 WR and that Michigan mostly seems to play press coverage. He also has solid leaping ability which allows him to defend bigger receivers. Time will tell, but this guy has first round pick written all over him.
3. Not as Predictable
This is more difficult to quantify, but Michigan’s offense does not feel as predictable as it did under the Brady Hoke regime. Each week it seems like Michigan has added a new wrinkle of some sort. Sometimes these things appear based on what worked last week (like the zone reads for Jake Rudock in the Northwestern game). Other times these appear to be classic examples of showing something one week and then running the exact counter to it the following week when the other team will be looking for something specific.
4. Talent Utilized
Brady Hoke was a good recruiter. He was a good position coach. But his loyalty to Al Borges, as well as other shortcomings made it difficult for him to succeed as a head coach at this level. I have no doubt he will be back coaching someone’s defensive line soon. But back to recruiting. He did not leave the cupboard bare. There is loads of talent on this team, most of which his staff just couldn’t develop, or find the best ways to utilize. One has to wonder what Devin Gardner could have been under the tutelage of Harbaugh and Jedd Fisch. In the meantime this defense looks unworldly, and there is a lot of growing talent on offense. Amaroh Darboh has been a bit quiet so far this season, but Jehu Chesson is turning into Steve Breaston 2.0 (MGoBlog has been banging this drum all season so h/t to them). De’veon Smith looks like a legit Manball © back. Jake Butt looks like the next great college TE to come out of Harbaugh’s system. On defense, guys like Jeremy Clark are going from “uh oh” starters to “oh yeah” starters. This is all one of the reasons this team looks like it’s getting better every week. The talent is there, it just has to be utilized.
5. Harbaugh to the NFL
People love to talk about how Harbaugh won’t stay at Michigan long. How he is destined to go back to the NFL. The guys on the Solid Verbal Podcast even made jokes about Michigan fan’s reaction to this. It’s not impossible to seem him going back, but it doesn’t seem like the slam dunk move everyone makes it out to be. First of all, he was in the NFL last year, and he left it. He didn’t have to leave it. There were unquestionably teams interested in him, and more that would have been if they thought they had a shot. The Miami Dolphins just fired their head coach. Their owner is Stephen Ross, a Michigan alum and one of the people who pushed Harbaugh to Ann Arbor. He could have fired Joe Philbin last year and had Harbaugh if he thought he could get him. Harbaugh has been a college coach before, for longer than he was an NFL coach. He knows what the job is and how it’s different. He likely shares the personality of guys like Saban and Spurrier, both who briefly tried the NFL and came back to college. They are control freaks who want to run a tight program exactly their way. This is hard to do in the NFL when your players make more than you and are far more often looking out for themselves far above anything else. There were plenty of reports of Harbaugh clashing with players. It’s really possible that he said “enough of this” and realized he was better suited for the college game. Sure it could have just been the timing of the job being available. Sure he might go coach the Bears or the Colts (with Andrew Luck) someday. It’s possible. But it’s not happening next year, or in two years. And if he brings Michigan back to the elite level they were once at, it’s hard to see him walking away from that for new headaches.