The Wolverine

September 2018*

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE SEPTEMBER 2018 T he longest offseason in Jim Harbaugh's time back at Michigan merci- fully ends soon, his team gear- ing up to become unmerciful in year four under the former All-American quarterback. It's time, despite the hill to climb. The schedule whispers, wait a year. At Notre Dame, at Michigan State, at Ohio State … it's too much. Michigan's seniors and po- tential early exits say shove that. We don't have a year. This is the ONLY year. Harbaugh acted like it over the past few months. He brought in a former architect of some bullying offensive lines of his chief enemy, Ed Warinner literally having been behind those enemy lines in Columbus. The head coach didn't stop there. He scooped up former Alabama offensive coordina- tor and Florida head coach Jim McElwain to coach receivers and boost Michigan's offensive game. He welcomed a young and enthusias- tic Sherrone Moore to mentor his tight ends, and a Don Brown disciple in Al Washington to direct his linebackers. Then he went out and secured a quarterback from the SEC — Shea Patterson of Ole Miss — with more than 3,000 passing yards and 23 touchdowns on his résumé … as a freshman and sophomore. Serious? Yeah, Harbaugh is as seri- ous as a grizzly guarding cubs. They baited him in Chicago at the Big Ten football meetings, regarding his record versus rivals so far, perhaps hoping for a blowup. His response rang perfectly true, sans abrasiveness. "If you get knocked down, you can't cry about it," he cautioned. He didn't. He did something about it. His players intend to follow suit. They know, as bad as 8-5 felt last season, they weren't all that far from 12-1. Now, there were major malfunc- tions in the offense, ones that desper- ately needed to be addressed. Harbaugh addressed them, boldly. In so doing, he just might have kept a key element of his defense in place. Fifth-year senior defensive end Chase Winovich had a decision to make last January. Head to the NFL, or pull on the winged helmet for one more year. It's safe to say he wasn't interested in doing the latter for 8-5. "Inside the building, we know that 8-5, or 10-2, is just not where we need to be," Winovich said. "There's defi- nitely a lot of motivation with that. Nobody is happy with 10, 10 and eight [wins the last three years]." Winovich's take on offensive im- provement jumps out. As diplomati- cally as he can muster, the senior with the lion's mane says if Michigan's offense can get a little better, a crew that grew up while becoming the No. 3 total defense nationally can do some serious damage. Winovich even talked to Patterson about it, before the junior transfer de- cided to become a Wolverine. "I went to Shea and I said, 'Hey man, you come to Michigan and I'll come back,'" Winovich acknowl- edged. "We had a dialogue back and forth. I didn't even know if he'd be eligible. It was important for me. One of the aspects was that the offense got taken care of and will make some im- provements. I was convinced of that. "You can't point fingers, but having an offense that's even marginally better than it's been will pay huge dividends." Marginally better sounds like faint hope, but consider recent history. Michigan beats Michigan State if it can grab a lead, or do something — anything — once the monsoon set in at The Big House in the second half of a 14-10 gut punch. The Wolverines could have won any of their last three games — against Wisconsin, Ohio State and South Carolina — with more offensive production and another play or two on defense. Winovich doesn't let his gang off the hook, by any means — especially when it comes to beating the Buckeyes. "When you get a chance to make a play, you've got to capitalize," he as- sured. "There are plays in that game — you guys are smart people, and I'm sure you can figure out which ones they were — the last couple of years, where we make those plays and it's a different outcome." Winovich and Michigan's other veterans enter the season desperate to make those plays and get over the top. It's far from blind hope, either, given the added weaponry, both in the coaching ranks and on the field. The Wolverines know with a break or two, a breakthrough lurks. "We've got as good a shot as any," Winovich insisted. "The margin of being in the playoff or not? Look at 2016. It's inches. It really comes down to that." The true test of measuring up has arrived. Harbaugh and his crew are ready to jump in with both feet. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON U-M Thinking Success, Not Schedule Defensive end Chase Winovich opted to return for his fifth-year senior season at Michigan, rather than head to the NFL, with win- ning a championship in mind. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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