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Michigan football hasn’t needed an OC

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Michigan DC Don Brown speaks with reporters about a learning experience, tweaking game plans and Penn State, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep

Championship month has arrived for Michigan. 

November is the most important stretch of the year for all college football teams. For Michigan, it’s massive. And it starts Saturday vs. Penn State (3:45 p.m., ESPN)

But first, the mailbag. 

What’s your opinion of Michigan not having an offensive coordinator? — @bradelders

Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I really never thought this was as big a deal as others did. Not saying my opinion is right, but that’s been my thought on it.  

More: Michigan football vs. Penn State: Scouting report, prediction

First, this is the way Harbaugh’s always done things. He does have Pep Hamilton upstairs as a heavily involved play caller. He also has Ed Warinner on the field with him at all times. And the buck ultimately stops with Harbaugh, as has always been the case. It’s his offense and anyone calling plays, or suggesting plays, is doing so within the framework of Harbaugh’s scheme. 

Second, the offense has found terrific balance through eight games. 

More: Michigan football coaching staff’s two different, effective approaches

Some argued Michigan needed to hire an offensive coordinator and let that person install their own system, with full autonomy. That’ll likely never happen here, as Harbaugh’s always going to run what Harbaugh wants to run. 

Others suggested this could be an organizational problem during a game. I can see that point a bit more, perhaps, if this were a situation where five voices are shouting over each other in real time. I’m not sure that’s the case. Still, it’s not for everyone. Some people prefer traditional roles. But those people don’t work at Michigan.  

This situation has worked well for Harbaugh. Hamilton comes from the Harbaugh tree, his coaching background and offensive philosophy is in tune with the head coach. But Warinner is an off-tree hire, meaning he brings a different perspective each week. Jim McElwain’s also upstairs and he has a different view as well.

The introduction of different perspectives has, in my opinion, really helped this offense take off. Harbaugh’s at the wheel for most all of this, of course, and the credit should go to him for making these moves. 

It’s not conventional, but it doesn’t have to be. Football can often be a big echo chamber game. Harbaugh’s really never fit in that chamber. 

Why is this year gonna be different? Seems like everytime the program is high it gets smacked back down. What’s different about this year? — @35robert16 

I don’t have a crystal ball, I can’t guarantee that Michigan will finish the year 11-1 and advance to the Big Ten title game. 

But I’m more inclined to believe this group is capable of it than in other years because I don’t believe this team’s confidence is phony. I’ve seen that before. This isn’t that. 

Michigan’s defense is very good and that’ll translate to every opponent on the schedule. The offensive line has improved, as has Michigan’s play-calling and Shea Patterson’s presence allows this entire unit to play with a type of diverse play-calling we haven’t seen from a Harbaugh team yet. 

Saturday is more or less the final “show me” test for Michigan’s front five on offense. Penn State has the best pass rushing outfit in the Big Ten. Michigan State had the best rush defense and the Wolverines won that game on the ground. If they slow Penn State’s rush, they’re for real.  

In 2016, Michigan’s offensive line was inconsistent and the quarterback play wasn’t as versatile. This year, so far, feels different. 

What do you think about LSU getting ranked above Notre Dame in the playoff rankings? I’m worried about what that means for the Big Ten if LSU beats Alabama this weekend but then Alabama runs the table. — @timpark

The committee pumped the “wins vs. teams with winning records” stat pretty hard Tuesday. And LSU currently leads all teams with six of those. Michigan has five. Notre Dame, while undefeated, only has three. The Irish were ahead of U-M via their head-to-head win, but below LSU due to overall win resume. 

It made sense to me. And keep in mind this is all very early. Plenty can change in five weeks. 

But Tim’s question is an interesting one. Say LSU wins Saturday and then wins out. They’re in. If Alabama finishes 11-1 without a division or conference title, would the Tide finish higher than a hypothetical 12-1 Big Ten champion Michigan? 

Alabama, as of today, has two wins vs. teams with winning records. Michigan has five. Alabama can possibly pick up two more post-LSU vs. Mississippi State and Auburn. Michigan, in this scenario, can pick up three more vs. Penn State, Ohio State and in the B1G title game. Records can change elsewhere, of course, but if you put resumes side-by-side and look at those only, Michigan probably has that advantage. 

But the ever-subjective eye test is a factor no one can explain. Neither team would have a bad loss, Michigan might have more quality wins but would the committee deem Alabama a better option based on talent? No idea how that’d shake out. I also don’t know what would happen if Notre Dame loses and you’re comparing one-loss Big Ten champ Michigan with one-loss Notre Dame with a win over Michigan. 

Most of this stuff will probably work itself out in the coming weeks. 

How does this D compare to 2016, 2006, 1997 so far by the numbers? — @kevmc21

The 12-game gold standard at Michigan is the 1997 national title group. That team finished the year allowing just 9.5 points per game while allowing 222.8 yards per contest. Opponents converted at 26.5 percent on third down and had just an average of 11.8 third-down conversions per game. 

It’s really hard to compare eras like this because the game is so different now compared to what it was more than 20 years ago. But for the basic sake of countable stat comparison, here’s how Michigan’s 2018 unit stacks up with 1997 through eight games. 

Rush defense: 97.13 (2018), 78.4 (1997).

Pass defense: 122.9 (2018), 158.5 (1997).

Total defense: 220 (2018), 202.5 (1997).

Scoring defense: 14.4 (2018), 7.5 (1997). 

Sacks: 24 (2018), 21 (1997). 

Turnovers: 9 (2018), 21 (1997). 

So, things are going very well for the 2018 team defensively. But that’s another reminder of how ridiculous Michigan’s 1997 numbers were.  

Contact Nick Baumgardner: nbaumgardn@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.

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