2014 Recap: One thing was for certain at the end of the year: Ann Arbor was not bereft of storylines or drama this past fall. Head coach Brady Hoke was terminated after a 5-7 season, athletic director Dave Brandon was prompted to resign following the Shane Morris concussion incident, some snarky e-mails and, of course, Michigan’s continued downfall on the football field.
On the field, things weren’t any better for the Wolverines, who mustered only a 3-5 conference record and was unable to reach bowl eligibility, falling one win short. Many were suspicious of Michigan after getting destroyed by Notre Dame 31-0 in the final contest between the two rivals for the foreseeable future. And after a 26-10 loss in the Big House to Utah, the struggles were confirmed.
Michigan’s defense was pretty solid last season, holding teams to 22.4 points per game on the year. It was the offense that was the issue for the maize and blue. Devin Gardner threw just 10 touchdowns passes and was intercepted 15 times in 2014, one of the worst touchdown-to-interception ratios in the country. Still, without much of a running attack and bad offensive line, Gardner and standout receiver Devin Funchess were depended on heavily for offensive production.
It was a tough year for Michigan, posting its longest win streak at two games, beating Indiana and Northwestern in early November on consecutive weekends. But with Hoke out and Jim Harbaugh in, many are expecting the program to return to glory and soon.
High Point: You really need to dig deep to discover any high points for Michigan last year. However, the highest point in the season came in early November when the Wolverines won consecutive games over Indiana and Northwestern. It was the only winning streak Hoke was able to string together in his final season in Ann Arbor.
The defense played particularly well in those two games, allowing just 19 points in eight quarters of football. It also forced five turnovers in the two games, which was essential, particularly in the Northwestern game. The Wolverines defense played exceptional against two of the conference’s top running backs as well with Indiana’s Tevin Coleman needing 27 attempts to gain 108 yards and freshman Justin Jackson earning just 35 yards for the Wildcats. Neither player reached the end zone on the ground.
Low Point: There were plenty of low points for Michigan on the field this season. A shutout loss to Notre Dame, a pounding by Utah at home and losses to Maryland and Rutgers are all worthy candidates for this spot. But the lowest point came with the mishandling of Shane Morris’s minor concussion he suffered in a September 27th game against Minnesota.
Despite suggestions from Michigan’s medical staff, Hoke and the coaching staff chose to keep Morris in the game with a possible head injury, a major area of concern for football at every level. The lack of responsibility and communication between medical personnel and the coaching staff, as well as contradicting statements from Dave Brandon about the incident, led to protests outside the athletic facilities of the University. It was the writing on the wall for both Brandon and Hoke.
Best Player: It wasn’t his best season for Michigan, but Devin Funchess was the biggest weapon Devin Gardner had this season and was a threat every play for the Wolverines. The 6’5, 230 lb. receiver caught 62 passes for 733 yards and four touchdowns in 2014, a number that could’ve been much better if Gardner was a little more accurate in the pocket. Still, the junior was no stranger to big plays or putting up impressive numbers.
In the season opener against Appalachian State, Funchess recorded three touchdown catches in the game. At the end of the year, he caught seven passes for 108 yards.
With a new head coach and struggles last season, it was smart for Funchess to forego his final season in Ann Arbor and head for the NFL. But he is going to be truly missed as a playmaker next season.
2015 Outlook: Many are expecting big things under new head coach Jim Harbaugh, who brings plenty of experience at the college and professional level to his alma mater. Even with Harbaugh’s past success, the turnaround at Michigan will take some time.
The Wolverines lose Gardner and Funchess, the two biggest offensive weapons in 2014. Michigan will also lose talent on the defensive side as well with Jake Ryan, Raymon Taylor and Brennen Beyer all having played their final game at Michigan.
Michigan does have some talent and depth at running back for 2015 with Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith and USC transfer Ty Isaac, which should provide a solid foundation for a healthy ground game. Nonetheless, with few recruits coming in and a new style of play forthcoming, it’s hard to see this Michigan team emerging atop the Big Ten standings so soon.
Harbaugh might be able to get the maize and blue back in the conversation next season with the Wolverines competitive enough to reach postseason play, but the transformation back into an elite program will take some time.