The Wolverine

February 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2017 M ichigan football fans can be forgiven a triple squint and astonished visage, at the con- clusion of another wild ride football season under Jim Harbaugh. They're rightfully wondering how a team that smoked the eventual Big Ten champion by 39 points, led Ohio State in its own building by 10 and finished No. 1 nationally in total defense (by 0.231 yards per game, over Alabama) could wind up on the outside looking in for the conference championship and the playoff. The Wolverines finished No. 10 in the nation, behind a pair of league foes they beat (Penn State and Wis- consin), a crew they led in the final two minutes (Florida State), and an Ohio State team requiring over- time and more home cooking than Thanksgiving produces to survive. The 10-3 Autobahn spinout will have U-M fanatics retreating to DVRs all winter, just to convince them- selves it really happened. Not Harbaugh. He's too busy to look back. Nobody gets one percent better every day with eyes fixed in the rearview mirror. Harbaugh re- mains all about that one percent and seizing what turned to dust in the Wolverines' grasp this year. So how is that going to happen, many will insist. If this team couldn't get over the hump via a phalanx of All-Americans, All-Big Ten perform- ers, seasoned seniors and a Heisman Trophy candidate, how can it not take a major step backward next year, following the stampede out the door? It's Harbaugh's job to prevent a slide away from contending, and he's going after it like piranha after fresh meat. He's convinced Michigan's younger players there's no need to pause in a push for the top — not that they required much convincing. Senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis outright laughed at the notion Michi- gan's upcoming corps will worry about the departures. That's not how they think, he insisted, stressing their talent, their confidence and his own excitement in watching the next wave come forth. Those seniors, defensive coordina- tor Don Brown pointed out, were unbelievably valuable in prepping those coming behind them. That in itself will make a difference. "The way these guys have been role models for the younger guys, and the way they go about doing their business, there is no fear in our younger guys," Brown said. "It's like, 'Okay, it's my turn. I've got to be ready to do my job.' "You can just see it at practice, and especially watching the tape after. Some of these young guys, I'm just really pleased with." He cautions that no opponent has delivered a punch, slamming fist into hand. That's next, but some con- stants remain, like high-level coach- ing. For the second straight year, Har- baugh lost a key element in his staff, quarterbacks/wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch leaving for UCLA. For the sec- ond straight year, Harbaugh brought in someone to keep revving the en- gine. Pep Hamilton built a 20-year coaching career largely in the NFL, with an important stop at Stanford to work under Harbaugh and in round one with quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck and Hamilton's round two un- folded with the Indianapolis Colts, in a breakthrough, record-setting sea- son by the QB. A former Stanford recruit's father anonymously shared glowing words about Hamilton and the Harbaugh- Hamilton combo. "Pep is a great, great dude," the father said. "He is one of the most down-to-Earth guys I have ever met throughout the entire recruiting pro- cess and just around football in gen- eral. He's a former player so he really understands how to connect with his players … "I think him being at Michigan with Harbaugh is almost not fair. The two of them recruiting kids to come to a place like Michigan, especially after the success he's already had in just two seasons, could be crazy. It's about to be a special run at Michigan and I think Pep can really take it to an even higher level." Hamilton inherits a seasoned quar- terback in redshirt sophomore Wilton Speight, and plenty of young talent at wide receiver. Offensive coordina- tor Tim Drevno is working to rebuild the offensive line, including some 330- to 350-pound building blocks. Brown will also engage what fig- ures to be a second straight top-five recruiting class. A stutter step or two? Maybe. But it says here, if the Wolverines knock off Florida and its new QB in the opener in Arlington next year, it surges 6-0 into a show- down in Happy Valley, when rookies aren't rookies anymore. Harbaugh is all about onward, and the boys in blue are following his lead. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON No Reverse For Harbaugh's Machine Jim Harbaugh and his Wolverines are too busy preparing for the future to look backwards at consecutive 10-3 campaigns, and the coaching staff only gets stronger with the addition of assistant head coach/passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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