Opponent Outlook: Michigan recovering from Tarik Black injury
Notre Dame’s previous college football meeting with Michigan influenced a coaching change.
A 31-0 thumping at Notre Dame Stadium before a 5-7 finish prompted the Wolverines to move on from Brady Hoke and acquire Jim Harbaugh after 2014.
Harbaugh has since delivered a pair of 10-win seasons. Michigan has not finished better than third in the Big Ten East, though.
Thanks to defensive coordinator Don Brown, Michigan’s defense has ranked among the best nationally in the last two years. Michigan may see offensive improvement, too, after adding former five-star quarterback Shea Patterson in the offseason as a transfer from Mississippi.
Tarik Black’s right foot injury in Saturday’s practice — making him unavailable against Notre Dame and onward — could create problems for the Michigan offense. Will his absence be enough to give the Irish an advantage?
We caught up with the Detroit Free Press’ Nick Baumgardner for more insight on the Wolverines.
• How big of a loss is Tarik Black? Other than Donovan Peoples-Jones, which receivers do you see stepping up?
Baumgardner: “It’s a big one. Black was Michigan’s best receiver as a freshman last season before he got hurt and it wasn’t real close. He was expected to be No. 1 again this year, but is back on the shelf with another foot injury. Michigan lost a lot of receiver depth to transfer this offseason in part because most assumed younger players like Black, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Oliver Martin were ready to make a jump.
“With Black down, Michigan will have to rely heavily on the development of the other three. Senior slot receiver Grant Perry is also back and Michigan tight ends Zach Gentry and Nick Eubanks are versatile enough to spread out. But Black’s a big loss.”
• With the exception of naming Patterson his starting quarterback, Harbaugh tends to keep his program under wraps. No depth chart. No official OC. No favorite pair of khakis (that we know of). Who and what will be the biggest surprises in Week 1?
Baumgardner: “There could certainly be a surprise starter along the offensive line or something, but probably not anything overly shocking. We know what Michigan wants to do offensively with Patterson. The question is whether or not it’ll be able to pull that off.
“Michigan wants to be multiple, it wants to incorporate more spread concepts. Then again, Michigan wanted to do all these things last year and failed to accomplish any of it because its quarterback play was poor and its offensive line was nowhere near consistent enough. Regardless of everything else, though, Harbaugh’s put together more quality game plans than poor ones. He’s had plenty of time to prepare for this one, so it’ll be interesting.”
• Patterson joins a much different offense than Ole Miss’ spread system. Considering his newness to the system and Michigan’s elite defense, do you see Patterson operating as a game manager on Sept. 1? Or will he let it loose?
Baumgardner: “Harbaugh’s always wanted his quarterbacks to be efficient over anything else. Patterson’s nature as a playmaker is to push the envelope a bit, which has resulted in turnovers and negative plays. Michigan can’t afford either of those.
“Considering that this is his first game in the system, I would think Michigan will try its best to keep things under control while also encouraging Patterson to be himself. Though this is part of the reason why he came to Michigan. He wants to learn how to be a balanced quarterback in a pro-style offense. So both sides have to adjust. He has to work to stay efficient without being dangerous and Michigan has to give him enough room to be himself.”
• Don Brown’s unit ranked No. 1 nationally in total defense two years ago. Despite losing many key players after 2016, Michigan finished No. 3 last season. Since Michigan returned most of its top defenders, do you think it will reclaim No. 1 status?
Baumgardner: “This is the deepest group Brown’s had at Michigan and he believes it’s his fastest overall from top to bottom. Michigan returns its entire secondary and five of its front seven, with every rotation player back as well.
“Whether or not they finish No. 1 overall remains to be seen. But it’d be a surprise if Michigan’s not near the top of most total defense lists this season.”
• Harbaugh brought in Ed Warinner as his OL coach but declined to name him, or anyone, as his offensive coordinator. Do you believe Harbaugh will call the plays? What kind of impact will former Florida coach Jim McElwain have on Michigan’s receiving corps?
Harbaugh’s always been his own offensive coordinator. Don’t let titles fool you. He’s always had someone in charge of the run game and someone in charge of the pass game.
During games, he’ll decide what he wants to do and he’ll take suggestions from his staff on the fly.
“Pep Hamilton and Ed Warinner will be heavily involved in that, Jim McElwain probably will, too. All of them will have input in the game plan. But this is, has been and probably always will be Jim Harbaugh’s offense.”
No. 12 NOTRE DAME (0-0) vs. No. 14 MICHIGAN (0-0)
Kickoff: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EDT
Where: Notre Dame Stadium
Radio: WSBT-AM (960), WSBT-FM (96.1)
Line: Notre Dame by 1