Around the Big Ten: Iowa QB transfer Rudock key for Harbaugh, Michigan

Rick Brown

The late Bo Schembechler got his wish: A Michigan man is now coaching the Michigan team.

Jim Harbaugh, a former Wolverine quarterback under Schembechler, returns to try to get the winged helmets flying again.

Harbaugh inherits a team that was seventh nationally in total defense, but 112th in total offense. That's how you go 5-7 and 3-5 in the Big Ten's East Division. That, and 26 turnovers. As Brady Hoke found out, that's also how you get fired.

It will take some time before Harbaugh can go head-to-head with the Ohio State machine that is running at national championship speed under Urban Meyer. But the pieces are there at most positions for the Wolverines to overachieve.

Harbaugh, and his intensity, have people believing there are brighter Maize-and-Blue days ahead.

"He's fiery, and he's crazy, like me," redshirt freshman safety Jabrill Peppers told after Michigan's spring game in April. "We definitely get along very well. He brought in a great staff. They're knowledgeable guys and great teachers. We're moving in the right direction."

After the spring game, Harbaugh said he liked his team's competitiveness and work ethic.

"The process is well under way," Harbaugh told the USA TODAY.

Spring buzz

The biggest hole in the offense is a replacement for Devin Gardner at quarterback. Junior Shane Morris has taken some snaps. A handful of freshmen are also at the position. None of them — Morris included — have thrown a touchdown pass in college.

But there will be another candidate who has. Jake Rudock transferred out of Iowa for his final season of eligibility. He threw 34 touchdown passes in his two seasons as the Hawkeyes' starter. If Harbaugh wants a game manager who has a grasp of the offense and can check his team into the right play at the line of scrimmage, Rudock may be his guy.

Michigan had a pass efficiency rating of 109.7 last season. Rudock was fourth in the Big Ten in pass efficiency at 133.5.

One player anxious to see who the quarterback will be is junior and former Dowling Catholic all-stater Amara Darboh, who had 473 yards receiving on 36 grabs last season. As a team, Michigan had just five touchdown catches. Darboh had two of them.

If Harbaugh elects to return to the kind of power football he had great success with at Stanford and Schembechler loved at Michigan, the backs and line experience are there to make it work. Five different linemen have started games. And the top three running backs all return in De'Veon Smith (519 yards, six touchdowns), Derrick Green (471 yards ) and Drake Johnson (361 yards). Green is coming back from a broken clavicle that shortened his season to six games.

Still to be settled

In addition to quarterback, Michigan must replace defensive playmakers Jake Ryan, Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark. They combined for 35 tackles for a loss. But linebacker Joe Bolden (102 tackles last season) is back. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has said he'll use both 4-3 and 3-4 sets.

The kicking game is an area to watch, too, as Harbaugh must replace both punter Will Hagerup and placekicker Matt Wile.

Our take

Harbaugh is a no-nonsense, demanding coach. Sounds a little bit like Schembechler, doesn't it? The defense, returning 24 of the 29 players on the depth chart at the end of last season, should carry this team. If the offense can make progress, productivity is up and turnovers (18 interceptions, eight fumbles lost) are down, this may be a better-than-average season (as of late, at least). That offense needs to more efficient to keep the defense rested.