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What Husker fans need to know about the Michigan Wolverines

September 22, 2018

Record: 2-1

Offensive yards per play: 6.59 (T-33rd nationally)

Defensive yards per play: 3.99 (eighth)

Turnover margin: even (T-63rd)

Penalty yards per game: 81.3 (T-118th)

Coach

Jim Harbaugh (30-12 at Michigan)

Once a star quarterback for the Wolverines in the 1980s, Harbaugh returned to Ann Arbor in 2015 as a bombastic, quirky coach fresh off a successful turnaround at Stanford (2007-10) and a run to the Super Bowl during his time with the San Francisco 49ers (2011-14). His narrative at his alma mater so far has been an inability to beat Michigan’s biggest rivals — Ohio State and Michigan State have won five of six games against Harbaugh — while picking up wins in bunches elsewhere. His various idiosyncrasies have been well publicized, though this is a notably more toned-down Harbaugh as he seeks his first finish higher than third in the Big Ten’s East Division in four tries.

Offense

Type: Pro-style, multiple

Coordinator: Pep Hamilton

Michigan’s offense was a mess in more ways than one last year. Three assistants held “coordinator” in their titles — offensive coordinator Tim Drevno, passing game coordinator Hamilton and run game coordinator Greg Frey — and the Wolverines ranked 105th in total offense (348.9 yards per contest) and 91st in scoring offense (25.2 points). Only Hamilton remains, but the “collaborative” effort Harbaugh spoke of on that side of the ball is still in search of an identity. Veteran spread quarterback and Mississippi transfer Shea Patterson has mostly worked out of the pocket, and Michigan’s 17 points against its only tough opponent so far (Notre Dame) has yet to inspire confidence in a new and improved playbook.

Defense

Type: 4-3

Coordinator: Don Brown

Under Brown, Michigan’s general plan has been to blitz quarterbacks and task its secondary with covering receivers man to man. To say it’s been effective is an understatement. Michigan tied for the national lead in tackles for loss last year and paced the country in passing defense. It’s been one of the country’s top units since Brown arrived in 2016 after three years at Boston College. The strength of this year’s group starts with a pair of All-America candidates at defensive end in Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. Linebackers Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson are two others who could be in the NFL soon. Overall, it’s a championship-caliber collection of talent that will give up the occasional chunk play but affords an offense little margin for error.

Players to watch

Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, running backs: The entire position is worth following after both backs continue to heal this week from unspecified injuries. Both went through practices, but junior Tru Wilson (17 carries for 107 yards) would be the next man in if either is unable to play. Higdon and Evans are veteran upperclassmen who measure a shade under 6 feet and a few pounds over 200 and have almost evenly split 64 carries for 400 yards and four touchdowns.

Winovich, defensive end: Talent evaluators told the former four-star prospect that he would have gone in the first four rounds of last year’s NFL draft. But Winovich decided to return for a fifth year at Michigan and has been a wrecking ball on the line with seven tackles for loss — only four players in the country have more. With 19 total stops — second on the team — Winovich’s numbers agree with the eye test that the 6-foot-3, 255-pound athlete has the motor to give offenses fits. Paired with fellow end Gary, the D-line pressure is among the nation’s best.

They said it

“The DBs gotta have their eyes right because it’s gonna be pound the rock, pound the rock, pound the rock, bombs away. And that’s kind of where they get their big chunks.”

Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander on what the secondary can expect against Michigan.

“We’re starting to form somewhat of an identity now. From Game 1 to now, going into the game against Nebraska on Saturday, we have a better idea of who our playmakers are and what are some of the things we feel like we can do now.”

Michigan offensive coordinator Hamilton

“I have a lot of respect for Scott (Frost). I have a lot of mutual friends through our Stanford connections. I’m really impressed with what he’s done as a coach. He’s really one of the bright coaches in our professions.”

Harbaugh on Nebraska’s new coach

Three stats

Two: Times in 29 games under defensive coordinator Brown that the Wolverines have allowed more than 400 total yards. Notre Dame managed 302 in the season opener.

Zero: Losses in 16 games under Harbaugh when a Michigan player rushes for 100 yards. The team is 25-2 when outrushing its opponent.

88: Combined sacks by Michigan the previous two seasons. It has six in three games this year.

Schedule

Sept. 1 at Notre Dame, L 24-17

Sept. 8 Western Michigan, W 49-3

Sept. 15 SMU, W 45-20

Sept. 22 Nebraska

Sept. 29 at Northwestern

Oct. 6 Maryland

Oct. 13 Wisconsin

Oct. 20 at Michigan State

Nov. 3 Penn State

Nov. 10 at Rutgers

Nov. 17 Indiana

Nov. 24 at Ohio State

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