DJ Durkin will be facing his old boss for the second time on Saturday, as Maryland welcomes Michigan to College Park.
We wanted to learn more about the Wolverines, and Ted Janes of The Michigan Daily has provided us with some inside information on this week's opponent. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Jim Harbaugh is 1-2 against Michigan State and 0-2 against Ohio State. How much frustration would you say there is in the fanbase over these results?
Beating Ohio State is certainly in the back of every Michigan fan's mind, but I don't think the fans are frustrated with Harbaugh at all. The Wolverines have come a long way since 2014, and Harbaugh has been the key to that. In 2014, Michigan went 5-7 and missed a bowl game. Now, a few years later, Harbaugh has brought in three solid recruiting classes, put the team in a New Years Six bowl game and simultaneously coached up the now-veteran players into NFL prospects — players that were here at Michigan before he was.
As for the results against Michigan State and Ohio State, those four losses have been remarkably close (with the exception of the 2015 game versus the Buckeyes). Obviously, fans want to see the Wolverines win those rivalries, but I wouldn't say there's much frustration with Harbaugh.
Michigan still seems like they're struggling to get over the hump between being a good team and a playoff team. What will it take for Michigan to be able to reach that next level as a truly elite team?
Michigan's defense is "elite." It has been one of the nation's best defenses this year, and it was one of the nation's best defenses last year as well.
While the running backs have been very impressive in the last few games, the team could certainly improve on offense. Without redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight and freshman receiver Tarik Black, who have both missed most of the season with injuries, the passing game hasn't been strong.
The future of the offense looks brighter, though, with the addition of redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters. He was Harbaugh's first major quarterback recruit, and it will take players like Peters performing at the level they're expected to if Michigan wants to seriously contend for a Playoff spot next year.
The Wolverines had a laundry list of players who got drafted this April. Who has been the toughest player to replace out of everyone who went pro?
Michigan lost 10 of 11 defensive starters, but it became clear early on that the inexperience on defense would not be an issue.
One former Wolverine that's been tough to replace was actually a player who didn't even get drafted: former right tackle Erik Magnuson, who now plays for the San Francisco 49ers.
Right tackle has been a weak point for Michigan all year, and it was evident in games against Michigan State and Penn State. A few Wolverines rotated at right tackle early in the season, but redshirt junior Juwann Bushell-Beatty finally won the battle. While Bushell-Beatty may not be on the same level as senior left tackle and offensive captain Mason Cole, he has played well enough in the past two games.
Michigan has had three different QBs get significant playing time this season. What has the lack of stability at that position been like?
Michigan isn't concerned with how many quarterbacks have played this year. Harbaugh always refers to his team as a "meritocracy," which essentially is another way of saying that you have to win your position battle every week. Therefore, there's always a quarterback battle at Michigan — even when there really isn't.
The reason three different quarterbacks have played significant time is in part due to Speight's injury, and a lot due to the inconvenient timing of Speight's injury. It would've been difficult for Harbaugh to give Peters his first career start during a three-game stretch that included Michigan State and Penn State, so that's probably why we saw a lot of fifth-year senior John O'Korn.
During that stretch, many fans wondered when Peters would get to play. Eventually, against Rutgers, Harbaugh put him in. Peters hasn't had to throw much lately, because the running backs have been so good, but Harbaugh said that Peters is the starter again this week. He'll likely be the starter for rest of the season, and potentially next season, so there's a little bit of stability creeping in.
Michigan's defense is second in the country in yards allowed per game. What in particular have they been doing well on defense this season?
It's tough to pick just one or two things that the Michigan defense has done well. One unit that's been unstoppable though for the Wolverines is the defensive line. Defensive ends Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich have combined for a total of 10 sacks this year, and while Winovich has seven of those, Gary gets double-teamed almost every drive.
Also on the line with Gary and Winovich is fifth-year senior Maurice Hurst. Hurst didn't start until this season but has undoubtedly played his way into the top half of the first round of the NFL Draft. Hurst has 11 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks this season, causing trouble for every offensive line he meets.
Fill in the blank: Maryland can upset Michigan if ____
Either every Terrapin plays the game of his life, or Michigan's offense shoots itself in the foot.
If the Terrapins were to pull off an upset, players like receiver D.J. Moore and running back Ty Johnson will need career performances. The Wolverines' secondary has been beaten this year, but it usually occurs when they face tall, lengthy receivers — something a team like Penn State has, but Maryland doesn't.
On the ground, Johnson will have to outrun Michigan's quick linebackers, which might be too tall a task.
Nonetheless, Michigan has let inferior teams stick around before. Teams like Air Force, Cincinnati and Indiana kept up with the Wolverines late into games because of one or two big plays or a handful of Michigan turnovers. If Maryland can capitalize on those, the Terrapins might have a chance.
Otherwise, it's tough to imagine Michigan losing this weekend.