Why hasn’t Jim Harbaugh landed the elite Quarterback in Ann Arbor?
Back in school, many of us were tasked with reading Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick. Not to take us down a classic literary route, but quickly, it's about a man (Ahab) and his obsessive quest for revenge against this giant whale named Moby Dick, who bit off part of his leg.
Some can say Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh completed one of those conquests last season by defeating Ohio State in Ann Arbor 42-27.
After defeating Ohio State, Michigan won the Big Ten Championship largely due to an exceptional running game and - let’s also be honest - Iowa really didn’t the offensive personnel to compete against Michigan. The Wolverines then took on eventual national champion Georgia in the College Football Semifinal where the Bulldogs held the Wolverines rushing attack in check, to the tune of 27 touches for 91 yards and 3.4 yards a carry.
Georgia exposed what Iowa or Ohio State couldn’t do last season. They were able to expose the fact that Michigan's efficient passing attack didn't have the potency to carry them in elite competition.
Michigan’s quarterback play against the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes combined to go 31 for 47 for 365 yards for 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions (I am omitting RB Donovan Edwards trick play pass to Roman Wilson for a 75 touchdown). That isn’t going to get it done against the SEC in the playoff. You also cannot expect and should not expected the Wolverines to duplicate rushing attacks of 7.2 yards per carry against Ohio State and 6.2 yards per carry against Iowa against a historic Georgia defense that was allowing 79 yards a game and under 3 yards a carry?
What was consistent for Michigan in the playoff was the mediocre quarterback play. J.J. McCarthy and Cade McNamara combined to go 18 for 36 237 yards 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. I wouldn’t even describe that is efficient, but more the glaring gap in Harbaugh’s quest to get Michigan back to the top in the country.
C.J. Carr and Dante Moore Commitments
What also is exposed is Harbaugh’s inability to land an elite quarterback. That was put on full display this week when former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr’s grandson C.J. Carr, a 5-star quarterback from Saline High School (Michigan).
Carr said of his commitment to The Athletic’s Austin Meek, “Michigan will always hold a special place in my heart. My grandpa coached there,” Carr said. “My dad and my mom went there. I’ll always be a Michigan man, and Michigan is my hometown. But I’m just really excited to be part of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish now.”
All eyes then turned to Dante Moore, another in-state 5-star quarterback from King High School in Detroit.
Moore had offers from across the country that included Michigan, LSU, Oregon, Notre Dame, Penn State, and Texas A&M.
The backbreaker came for Harbaugh on July 8th when Moore committed to Oregon.
Moore said of his commitment, "Coach Lanning of course being the head coach, he just came off a national championship, so he knows what it takes to get to the national championship and what to build to a program."
With the elite quarterbacks off the radar for Harbaugh for at least this recruiting cycle, let's examine and see why the elusive 5-star quarterback has avoided Michigan and Jim Harbaugh.
The Next Andrew Luck
Jim Harbaugh’s best export to the NFL was back at Stanford when he found a 6 foot 4 inch strong armed pro-style quarterback from Houston’s Stratford High School named Andrew Luck. Luck under Harbaugh’s tutelage became a number 1 pick in the NFL Draft and had a successful career.
Harbaugh since being at Michigan has recruited the following:
- Alex Malzone – 2015 4-star Pro-Style Quarterback 6’2” 205
- Brandon Peters – 2016 4-star Pro-Style Quarterback 6’4” 195
- Dylan McCaffrey – 2017 4-star Pro Style Quarterback 6’4” 185
- Cade McNamara – 2019 4-star Pro Style Quarterback 6’1” 202
- J.J. McCarthy – 2021 4-star Pro Style Quarterback 6’2” 195
- Davis Warren – 2021 0-star Pro Style Quarterback 6’2” 185
- Jayden Denegal 2022 3-star Pro Style Quarterback 6’4” 215
Luck coming out of high school was 6’4” 210 lbs. The description on Luck by the prognosticators was he possessed a big arm, could make all the throws, excellent footwork, great vision and quick decision making.
Going back on the scouting reports on these guys and watching reviews you here eerily the same adjectives on all these guys.
While I don’t have access to Harbaugh’s notes on these players, one can surmise he has a distinct preference at quarterback.
Dual Threats Lack of Success
I outlined above the pro-style quarterbacks Jim Harbaugh has landed.
His staff has landed a few dual threat quarterbacks in his time at Michigan:
- Joe Milton – 2018 4-star Olympia, Orlando, FL
- Dan Villari – 2020 3-star Plainedge Senior, Massapequa, NY
- Alex Orji – 2022 3-star Sachse HS, Sachse, TX
Alex Orji has yet to step on campus in Ann Arbor, so we will omit him, but the other two have since transferred. Dan Villiari who saw garbage time last season against Maryland, completing 1 of 3 passes for 26 yards with 2 rushes for 14 yards, is now at Syracuse. Joe Milton saw significant time with the Wolverines as a 3 season contributor in Ann Arbor. Milton’s 2020 season was his most productive despite only participating in six games. During that fall, he completed 56.7% of his passes for 1,077 yards 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
Since Cade McNamara took the starting job, Milton transferred to Tennessee where he since has been benched in favor of Hendon Hooker. The lack of success for dual threats during the Harbaugh regime and lack of development of dual threats has made it clear to those quarterbacks that Michigan is not an option. You might be thinking of another dual-threat quarterback I am missing. More on him later.
Lack of Continuity
Very few schools can pull off being Alabama and have a rotating door of offensive coordinators and still maintain a very high level of play. Michigan will be with its 4th set of offensive coordinators entering Harbaugh’s 8th season in Michigan.
New Michigan offensive coordinators for the 2022 season are Sherrone Moore and Matt Weiss. Both men take over for departing offensive coordinator Josh Gattis who served as Wolverines offensive coordinator from 2019 to 2021, but left for the same position at Miami under new coach Mario Cristobal.
It is expected that Moore and Weiss will retain the same Pro Spread philosophy that Josh Gattis employed at Michigan. It also goes back to the lack of continuity in Ann Arbor:
- Josh Gattis – 2019-2021 (Pro Spread)
- Pep Hamilton – 2018 (Multiple approach Pro Style/Spread/Pistol)
- Tim Drevno – 2015-2017 (Pro Style)
Lack of Elite Vertical Weapons
For a program as that has a rich history at developing wide receivers that were All Americans and Heisman winners from Anthony Carter, Desmond Howard, Braylon Edwards, Mario Manningham, David Terrell, and Marquise Walker, since Jim Harbaugh took over the Michigan program he has yet to have a First or Second Team All-American Wide Receiver, let alone a consensus First-Team All-Big Ten Wide Receiver.
During Harbaugh’s tenure, his top wide receivers have been:
- Jehu Chesson who was recognized in 2015 as a First-Team All-Big Ten Wide Receiver on the Coaches list, he was not on the Media List
- Amara Darboh who was recognized in 2016 on the Second-Team All-Big Ten Wide both Coaches and Media
- Donovan Peoples-Jones who was recognized in 2017 as a Freshman All-American and in 2018 was a Third-Team selection on the Coaches All-Big Ten Team
When you start to look at what output rivals Ohio State and Penn State have done at the wide receiver position in the Big Ten, Michigan pales in comparison.
Mired in a postseason ban, Ole Miss lost prior to the 2017 season Hugh Freeze and Patterson began the 2017 on fire setting Ole Miss records before going down with a PCL injury that ended his season.
With the NCAA hammer falling, Shea Patterson opted to transfer to Michigan. Patterson, rated as a 5-star dual threat quarterback coming out of high school, was the highest profile quarterback of the Harbaugh tenure up to this point. The expectations were high at Michigan for a kid who at Ole Miss completed 64% of his passes for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns in less than 7 full games played.
However, things at Michigan for Shea Patterson were a mix, he did become the third quarterback in Michigan history pass for more than 3,000 yards, he was named twice as a Third-Team All-Big Ten quarterback. In Patterson’s epilogue, he went undrafted in the 2020 NFL Draft and would later become the first overall pick in the 2022 USFL Draft for the Michigan Panthers, only to be released two months after the fact.
The reality that Harbaugh couldn’t turn Patterson into the next big quarterback is a stigma that is out there. For a coach with a pedigree like Jim Harbaugh to have coached Andrew Luck and make him a number one NFL Draft pick, to have realized the potential out of Alex Smith in the NFL that made him a viable starter in the NFL, and to have fully leveraged Colin Kaepernick into a pistol running dual threat quarterback in the NFL, it seems odd that he hasn’t been able to get that quarterback play in Ann Arbor.
One only must look at the team in Ohio as they say in Michigan and see how Ryan Day has coached and molded quarterbacks there, to play at a high level, to see 2 previous Buckeye starters get drafted in the first round in the NFL.
It is Harbaugh who is like Ahab seeking his “Moby Dick” his 5-star elite whale of a quarterback.