Michigan Wolverines football takes step backward in head coach Jim Harbaugh’s 3rd season
By NOAH TRISTER
AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR — For the first time since he arrived at Michigan, it feels like Jim Harbaugh is at a bit of a crossroads.
The team’s upward trajectory under Harbaugh ended with a thud this season, and although it wasn’t a shock to see the Wolverines take a step back from their 2016 showing, the lack of progress at quarterback was startling. Michigan will return plenty of talent on defense next season, but Harbaugh’s offense will be under a microscope as he enters his fourth year at the helm.
“We had some big goals going into the season. A lot of them we didn’t accomplish,” linebacker Noah Furbush said. “I have this bad taste in my mouth from this season and that’s just going to motivate us even more.”
After finishing 10th in the final AP poll of the 2016 season, Michigan had to replace a huge group of key contributors, including Jabrill Peppers, Jake Butt and Jourdan Lewis. The Wolverines came into this season ranked 11th, and that turned out to be way too optimistic. They beat Florida in their opener, but the season took a turn for the worse when they lost at home to Michigan State in October — Michigan’s eighth loss in the past 10 games against the Spartans.
The Wolverines finished 8-5, closing the season with losses to Wisconsin, Ohio State and South Carolina. The last defeat came in Monday’s Outback Bowl. Michigan turned the ball over five times in a second-half meltdown that essentially handed the Gamecocks a 26-19 win .
“We didn’t get the knockout punch when we needed it,” Harbaugh said after the game. “We didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that were there.”
The Wolverines did have some bright spots, such as defensive linemen Maurice Hurst, Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. Hurst was a fifth-year senior, but Gary was only a sophomore, and Winovich still has eligibility remaining. Linebacker Devin Bush and defensive backs Khaleke Hudson and Lavert Hill — all sophomores — also contributed to a defense that figures to be very good in 2018.