Wolverines Losing Commitment From Nation's Top 2015 Running Back Shouldn't Be a Surprise
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The news broke on Tuesday that Damien Harris, the #1-ranked 2015 running back in the nation per Rivals, had finally decommitted from Michigan. I say “finally”, because things had been trending that way of late, and with the Wolverines already suffering from the semi-recent decommitment of George Campbell, who is the #1 receiver in the 2015 class, Michigan fans had begun accepting their jilted fate.
Looking at the season that the Wolverines just had on offense, where the running backs averaged an ineffectual 3.5 yards per carry, it would make sense that a player would have second thoughts about signing up for such a colassal future. Of course, that could also be the type of thing that would entice a player – because with that little production already on the roster, every single job has to be up for grabs, which is what a freshman wants to hear.
Harris, from Berea, Kentucky, had Michigan and Ohio State tied at the top of his list at this time a year ago before eventually choosing the Wolverines. Given the year that the Buckeyes just had on the ground, what running back wouldn't be intrigued by the possibilities of playing in Columbus?
While Michigan's running backs were averaging 3.5 yards per carry, the Buckeye running backs were more than doubling that at 7.1 yards per carry, and they also managed to run for over 1,700 yards more than the Wolverine running backs.
While those numbers may have been a factor for Harris's decommitment, the larger factor seems to have been the firing of Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will need to mend some fences, and he'll certainly be able to sell his brief background with the Alabama running backs along the way.
What Nussmeier can't do, however, is sell actual results at Michigan. The Wolverine running game was a mess last season, and it would be hard to imagine them not being better. But what does better mean? Is it 3.8 yards per carry? Is it 4.5 yards per carry? And with the struggle to open holes that the Wolverines have had, would “better” even equate to “good”?
To call last season's offensive line a train wreck would be an insult to the many cows that have died at the iron fists of hateful trains, but suffice it to say that things were bad. Will they be better having lost their two best offensive linemen? Perhaps. Perhaps not. They'll certainly be a year older on the interior, however, which is where the vast bulk of the problems occurred.
While the Wolverines may still lead for Harris, he will assuredly study the 2014 Michigan offense to see if it continues to exhibit the factors that ultimately led to his decommitment. Meanwhile, Ohio State's offense will likely continue to run the ball very well, despite four new starters on the offensive line.
That assumption may rankle Michigan fans, given the questions above concerning Michigan's own offensive line. I would point to the fact that in 2012 Ohio State returned two starters on the offensive line in Andrew Norwell and Jack Mewhort, but neither had started an entire season at the position they ended up playing in 2012. That offensive line led the way to 5.4 yards per carry for the Buckeye running backs.
As you can see, Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner already has quite the track record of building productive offensive lines. A third year in a row of doing that in 2014 would have to give any 2015 running back confidence that a fourth year would be no different, especially when they would likely be returning five starters on the offensive line.
With Ohio State taking no true running backs in the 2014 class, you can bet that they will be working hard for one or two in the 2015 class, and Harris will definitely make their wish list.
Damien Harris will have a decision to make once again, and while Michigan may still be in good standing at the moment, it will be the running that will be the ultimate decider. If the Wolverines can't run the ball in 2014, and the Buckeyes can, the decision would seem to be simple.
The Michigan offense needs to right a bunch of wrongs from this past season, and if they do, the recruits will return. If they can't fix the problems on offense, however, then the problems will no longer belong to the offensive coordinator – they will likely belong to the new head coach.
And in that case, it would be hard to imagine Harris finding Ann Arbor to his liking.
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