Jim Harbaugh says Ohio State hurt Michigan with a lot of ‘speed plays,’ and ‘we take responsibility’ for the 62-39 debacle, Nov. 24, 2018.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep

Most of the dust has settled after Michigan’s 62-39 loss at Ohio State.

Though I’m not sure all of it will ever settle. 

The Wolverines (10-2) still have a bowl game left, but plenty want to know what’s next beyond that for Michigan. They’re all good questions. Let’s discuss a few. 

After last season we saw Jim Harbaugh make changes to his coaching and strength and conditioning staff. What changes (if any) do you think he might make this year? – Michael on email

At a lot of places, 10-2 with losses against two teams who may make the playoff might not necessitate change. But this isn’t a lot of places. 

More: Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan football remains allergic to the bright lights

And Michigan’s loss to Ohio State last week wasn’t exactly close. 

Time will tell what he does or doesn’t do this offseason. But if Harbaugh’s not taking a deep look at ramping up the process of evolution when it comes to Michigan’s offense, then it’s a wasted opportunity. Because it’s absolutely necessary. 

More: Michigan football: Wolverines progressed, but more is necessary

I offered credit where it was due this season: Harbaugh, eventually, modernized most of Michigan’s run game. The Wolverines fully embraced Ed Warinner’s zone schemes and even began to incorporate more zone-read packages that were very effective. They more or less ignored all this in the Ohio State game for inexplicable reasons, but I digress. 

Michigan had a solid balance between power and spread going on the ground this year and, for the most part, it kept defenses on their heels. The next step in that process, though, is the passing game. And it’s beyond necessary. 

Entering their junior year, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins are too good to receive just three to four touches per game. That number has to expand, which means Michigan has to be willing to throw the ball more and further modernize this offense overall. If Tarik Black gets back to full strength, he’s in that conversation as well. These are legit weapons who should cause matchup problems for every defensive back in the league. 

I really do believe part of the work has already been done, so long as Michigan continues to prioritize quarterbacks who have the ability to move in the pocket, be enough of a threat on the ground and make throws on the run. The offense has to be mobile, it has to be quicker and it has to have the ability to go get points when something goes wrong defensively. 

I’ll believe Harbaugh giving up total control of how his offense is run when I see it. Don’t see that happening. That said, he doesn’t need two or three voices in his ear with regard to game-planning or in-game execution. Harbaugh and one offensive coordinator can run this. Everyone else can stay in their lane.

Again: Harbaugh’s best assistants have been coaches who come in with fresh perspectives, off his tree. Perhaps that should be explored. 

I’m not in the crowd that believes Harbaugh’s too stubborn to change or adapt to different schemes, on the contrary. He’s done that before. He did it, to a degree, this season. 

The process needs to expedite now. This program’s good enough to win eight Big Ten games. But it needs to figure out how to win the ninth. That final push is usually the most difficult. 

The defense was bad, like bad, bad. A lot of attention is on the offense though. Why do you think that is? — @Dre_JacksonTL 

A lot of people have pointed out that Michigan’s offense did score 39 points and gain more than 400 yards at Ohio State. Yes, that’s true. But 20 of those points came in the fourth quarter when the blowout was on. And they all took forever to generate.

This offense had zero ability to move with any type of pace this season. And while the defensive meltdown was obviously the biggest reason why the Wolverines lost the game, your offense has to be able to play from behind a bit better than this one could. If Michigan gets behind two scores, it can feel insurmountable. 

Defensively, of course, Michigan either underestimated how fast Ohio State’s receivers were or underestimated its own speed, specifically in the case of Brandon Watson and linebacker Devin Gil. Any time those players were put in man situations, the Buckeyes feasted. Michigan was immediately put in scramble mode defensively and did switch to some zone early. Ohio State was ready for that, too. The Buckeyes had the No. 2-ranked offense in the country, they had a better game plan, they won that battle. 

The defense collapsed. But the offense also brought a knife to a gunfight and based on all the evidence we have about both units, it’s easier to give the defense a bit more of a pass as the two worst days of Don Brown’s tenure have come against two of the best quick-strike offenses (Penn State last season) the Big Ten has seen in years. That happens. Offenses have the advantage in modern football (you can’t hit the QB, you can’t hit receivers, you can’t hit anyone, etc), especially if they’re athletic. 

The offense has to have the ability to at least change speeds. They don’t need tempo for an entire game. But they can’t be huddling down three scores in the second half either. 

Is this Michigan’s ceiling as long as Urban (Meyer) is at OSU? — @Ben10133400 

I’ve found myself asking this question quite a bit over the past week. Meyer’s never going to be at Ohio State as long as Woody Hayes was (28 years). But he coaches in a more competitive era of college football and his winning percentage in Columbus is 90 percent, No. 1 all-time at that school. 

He’s 81-9 at Ohio State in seven years. He’s the program’s modern version of Hayes. A case could be made for him as the best coach in program history, as Hayes coached in an era where the game was regional. Not national. 

Harbaugh’s been a lot for Michigan in four years. But he hasn’t been that. Meyer’s above a gold standard. His only modern equal in coaching is Nick Saban. And, in more recent years, Dabo Swinney. 

Creating a better program than Urban Meyer’s, when you are his chief rival, isn’t like navigating an obstacle course. 

It’s like scaling a mountain. 

Contact Nick Baumgardner: Follow him on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.

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