It’s been hard to place a finger on one particular area where the Wolverines need to make changes in order to take the next step heading into Year 6 of the Jim Harbaugh era. Some have referenced the lack of a truly elite offense, most notably under center. Others will point to a defense that always places well in statistical rankings, but too often melts down against the best teams in the biggest moments.
Former Michigan linebacker Shawn Crable joined “Inside the Huddle with Michael Spath” last week to discuss the changes needed to produce better results in the most important games on the schedule.
“I think (it starts with) defense,” Crable said. “When I was at Michigan we wanted to win games 9-3 and manage the games playing hard-nosed football. On defense right now, I’m not seeing it.
We have got to get our man-to-man defense together. Our defensive backs are lost out there.
"I’ve watched Charles Woodson come on TV many times and talk about how to cover these bunch packages and these 3-by-1 packages. If you’re going to play man-to-man on 3rd and 13, and 3rd and 15 and send these 'dog' pressures where you’re sending the house and manning our guys up, that’s really the issue on defense.
"On offense, I really like the team and how we’re built, but we’re not going out there and putting up 40-something and 50-something points. We really need our defense to be in tune with what’s going on.”
This past season alone, the Wolverines were exploited on the defensive side of the ball in all four of their losses. The initial crack appeared in the first big test of the year, as Michigan was blown out in Madison, going down 35-0 against Wisconsin.
Almost a month later, Michigan came out timid in Happy Valley and saw itself down 21-0 to Penn State, which ultimately proved too large of a deficit to overcome.
Justin Fields and JK Dobbins rolled into The Big House and walked away having been barely touched after hanging 56 in The Game.
Finally, Jerry Jeudy and Alabama’s receivers put a capper on another brutal closing stretch for the Wolverines in the Citrus Bowl.
In those four contests, Michigan allowed 16 pass completions of 20 yards or more, including five and six, respectively, against OSU and Bama. And while they didn't struggle as badly in their other nine games (2.7 per contest), the Wolverines did allow 24 completions of 20 yards or more in their wins.
"We have to battle and we have to keep the ball inside and in front of us when it comes to defense. Letting these plays out of the box, these big routes, we can’t have that. We are a magnet for big plays at this particular time," Crable said.