Michigan Football: The Soul of Improvement Week

. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

While other teams have a bye week, Michigan football has an improvement week. Here’s what the Wolverines can do during that time.

Three of the AP’s top 10 teams did not play a game this weekend. Oklahoma (No. 3) and TCU (No. 9) had byes, but No. 8 Michigan has an improvement week. Why does Michigan get to have an improvement week while other schools are consigned to have bye weeks? Because Jim Harbaugh said so.

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Early in his regime, Harbaugh assigned the moniker “Improvement Week” to the Michigan version of what other, more pedestrian programs still refer to as a “bye week.”

Why ruffle feathers? Why swim upstream? Why bother with silly details like this? Because Harbaugh is a jackhammer. He doesn’t take days off, let alone whole weeks. And he is busy creating a team in his own image.

So how does Michigan’s improvement week differ from what others do? And what’s in store this week that is different from improvement weeks of the past?

Last season I remember Wilton Speight talking about taking that week (the week preceding the game day off) to watch game film of every game they had played so far that season. I also remember much of the senior-laden group acting as coaches, putting the younger players off the two-deep through most of the drills. This had the effect of giving the older, more experienced first-string players a break to rest and letting the younger players get more reps and individual attention.

But this year is a bit different. Yes, there are some seniors who could use a break. And yes, there are some some younger players who could use more reps. But this season offers a unique situation.

If you haven’t been hiding under a rock for the last week, you know what I’m talking about. John O’Korn took over for an injured Speight against Purdue and looked pretty good. The feeling here is that if the Wolverines could use some portion of improvement week on tailoring the play-calling to improve the chances of making the new quarterback’s job easier, it would be time well spent.

Of course, Harbaugh doesn’t like to release that sort of info. He closes up that submarine and hopes to never let info out more than 30 seconds before game time. So, we as fans, and we in the blogosphere—we speculate. Speculation and game film is about all we have to look forward to here. Let the speculation begin!


There were a couple plays in the game against Purdue that make my speculation impulses run wild. What if O’Korn gets a chance to play? What about the chemistry that we were tantalizingly teased by between Chris Evans and O’Korn? You didn’t notice? That’s OK, not many people did, I suspect.

But look at the last three plays of the first half. A sprint draw, which opened some room and let Evans run off the right tackle in space. Also, there was a pass play to Evans that was a good gainer; he just slipped out of the backfield and O’Korn was able to hit him in space for a big gain. The last one that I noticed was at 9:34 in the fourth quarter. It was a shovel pass that took Evans by surprise. I couldn’t help thinking, what if they actually practiced that?

What we saw, especially in the second half, was O’Korn rolling out to the right, either by design or by accident. He often looked like he was optioning the defensive end once he got past Ulizio. He came up with a lot of good RPO type plays off that look. And I’m thinking that if O’Korn and Evans practiced some of these plays together they could be pretty dynamic.

Then you have the route trees that the receivers would naturally go along with on that play: receivers going downfield, tight ends on crossing routes, etc. I think it’s there, and I’m hoping that’s what they would be working on, locked away in that watertight submarine for a good portion of these two weeks.


I’m not sure how you try to improve on perfection. Knowing Harbaugh and Don Brown, though, they’ll think of something. I don’t believe an offense that can beat this defense exists. Certainly not in the Big ten. The Oct. 21 game against Penn Stte is coming quickly, and even though the Nittany Lions’ offense has improved in the past couple years, I can’t see them embarrassing the Wolverines.

We have seen some weird things against the first two opponents that tested things we should be aware of. Then preparing for Air Force and that world-class triple option they run, that taught the defenders a lot of things about shutting down the perimeter running game. Then there were all those trick plays from Purdue that fooled the defense for maybe a half and definitely one touchdown drive.

Sure, Michigan will run into better offenses, but they’ve seen enough odd stuff to really stretch the minds of the young members of this defense. I think this defense may be very good now for a very long time.

Special Teams

The Wolverines have some good rookies here, huh? From Quin Nordin, to James Foug, to Brad Robbins, to Donovan Peoples-Jones. Yes, special teams are ascending. And I’m sure they will all find things to work on in improvement week.

Next: Top 10 running backs in Michigan history

One of the things I’d like to see is DPJ on kick returns. Maybe there’s time for that in improvement week?