The Michigan Wolverines came so close to snatching victory from the jaws of defeat against TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. Team 143 was the best Michigan team since the 1997 squad and arguably one of the top three teams in program history. But in the end, the 2022 season met the same final fate as the 2006, 2016 and 2021 teams.
Aside from the obvious improvements of cleaning up the self-inflicted wounds, how does this team continue to evolve and finally reach the next level? Now, let’s focus on the offensive side of the football, otherwise this could be a 5,000-word essay where I slowly delve into insanity arguing the nuances of defensive line technique.
Michigan’s rushing attack was lethal. The two-headed monster of running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards combined for 2,454 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. The Wolverines have a clear identity of smash-mouth football and that has never gone away as long as Jim Harbaugh is the head coach of this team (please stay).
However, in order to optimize the offensive unit, the Wolverines must become a more smooth, consistent and effective passing offense. Quarterback JJ McCarthy improved every week during his first year as the starter and in order to accelerate his development in 2023, Michigan should bring in a passing game coordinator (PGC).
Offensive coordinators Sherrone Moore and Matt Weiss coexisted exceptionally well this season as dual play-callers and produced a top-five rushing offense and a top-six scoring offense. But the passing offense was behind number 83 in the country.
Besides statistical ranking, Michigan’s passing attack often felt forced and nothing was as easy as it should have been – just compare Michigan and Georgia’s last offensive property in the College Football Playoff.
Since Moore and Weiss both come from a run-first, ask questions later coaching style, the influx of a PGC could inject much needed creativity and game plan to help balance and elevate the offense into a more complete unit. The most obvious successful example of this is when LSU hired Joe Brady as their passing game coordinator and co-receivers coach in 2019. Brady helped orchestrate the most dynamic passing attack in college football history and took quarterback Joe Burrow From middle transfer to the Heisman Trophy.
Harbaugh doesn’t need someone to do that, but he does need to hire someone who understands complementary football and his team’s identity. And it just so happens that this person is looking for a job.
David Shaw resigned as Stanford’s head coach at the end of November after back-to-back 3-9 campaigns. Shaw succeeded Harbaugh at Stanford in 2011 and became the all-time winningest coach at his alma mater, posting a career record of 96-54 during his tenure.
In 2006, Harbaugh hired Shaw as his PGC and receivers coach at the University of San Diego. The Toreros went 11-1 and Harbaugh left the following year to take the job at a dormant 1-11 Stanford program. Harbaugh was so impressed with Shaw’s coaching that he brought him to Stanford and promoted him to offensive coordinator.
The Cardinal have improved every year under Harbaugh: 4-8, 5-7, 8-5 and 12-1 in his final season in 2010. More balanced attack.
In 2009, Stanford’s rushing offense was ranked No. 11 nationally (218 yards per game), while the passing attack lagged behind at No. 70 (209 yards per game). The next year, the rushing offense regressed slightly to No. 17 (214 yards per game), but the passing offense rocketed to No. 29 (258 yards per game).
Shaw developed and cultivated an identity based on physicality, but could be equally dominant through the air.
The Harbaugh-Shaw connection is still alive and well all these years later. In his resignation press conference, Shaw referred to what he and Harbaugh started at Stanford back in 2007: “I have an appreciation for Jim Harbaugh and the original staff. We started something that really, really lasted.”
Harbaugh has found his guy to lead the defense in Jesse Minter, and now he needs to balance his offense. Shaw won’t be expected to come to Michigan and call plays or usurp responsibilities from White or Moore; He just needs to design a passing offense to put the coordinators and players in the best place to succeed.
There are already a few familiar faces on the Michigan roster to make Shaw feel at home. Of course it’s Harbaugh, but also 2022 Stanford team captain and center Drake Nugent, along with left tackle Myles Hinton, have both already transferred to Ann Arbor for the 2023 season.
Shaw and Harbaugh started something special at Stanford — it’s only right they end it together at Michigan.