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Monday, December 15, 2008
Michigan Wolverines season recap

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Michigan found itself lost in translation this fall, as major personnel turnover combined with difficulties to adjust to new schemes and coaches resulted in the worst season in team history.

Growing pains were inevitable after Michigan lost its offensive core to the NFL and brought in a new coach (Rich Rodriguez) with a dramatically different system. But few could have imagined how severe the team's struggles would be, as the Wolverines lost a school-record nine games, missed a bowl for the first time since 1974 and posted a losing record for the first time since 1967.

Quarterback play was a problem from the start as Rodriguez tried to integrate two players (Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan) into a system that didn't fit their strengths. Whether the coach should have better adapted his schemes is certainly up for debate, but both Threet and Sheridan struggled to execute the offense for entire games. Michigan played well in stretches -- a quarter here, a half there -- but rarely put together a complete 60 minutes.

Several skill players showed flashes of promise, but questions at quarterback and an offensive line that took time to take shape led to Michigan finishing 109th nationally in total offense (290.8 ypg).

Perhaps more troubling was a defense that had experience up front and in the secondary. After carrying Michigan through the first four games, Scott Shafer's unit struggled against Illinois, Penn State, Michigan State and Purdue. The defense joined the offense at the bottom of the Big Ten statistical charts as Michigan tumbled to a 3-9 season.

Offensive MVP -- Running back Brandon Minor

One of few bright spots on a flustered unit, Minor emerged in the second half to become Michigan's primary back and most consistent offensive performer. He led the team with 533 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, averaging an impressive 5.2 yards per carry. Minor's strong showings against Penn State (117 rush yards, 2 TDs) and Purdue (155 rush yards, 3 TDs) raise hope for the future.

Defensive MVP -- Defensive end Brandon Graham

The lone non-senior starter on the defensive line looked like a veteran this fall, carving a spot among the nation's elite pass-rushers. Graham led the Big Ten and ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (20) and finished third in the league in sacks (10). The junior recorded tackles for loss in 10 of 12 games and had multiple TFLs in six contests.

Turning point -- Oct. 11 vs. Toledo

The trouble signs were there, but Michigan still had a chance to even its record at 3-3 and set up a potential postseason push. Michigan had never lost to a Mid-American Conference team in 24 previous meetings, but a miserable offensive performance led to a 13-10 upset in Ann Arbor. Threet had an interception returned 100 yards for a touchdown, and Michigan went on to lose its next three games.

What's next

It can't get much worse for Rodriguez and the Wolverines, but they have plenty to fix in the offseason, starting with the offense. Minor and a more experienced group of wide receivers and offensive linemen return, but Rodriguez must get production from his quarterback, who more than likely will be a true freshman (Shavodrick Beaver or Tate Forcier). The defense must replace three starting linemen but should be better in the back half.