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Michigan needs to attack Penn State with enthusiasm unknown to mankind - and a good game plan

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The Wolverines could take a cue from their coach’s off-field persona in Happy Valley

Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

This is my favorite Harbaugh-ism, bar none. You can have the American Sniper tweet, the Nordin sleepover, or his now legendary Pardon My Take interview; but for me, “Attack each day with enthusiasm unknown to mankind” is peak Harbaugh.

I love this tweet because it is purely bad ass. I’m fond of texting it to my friends when I know they have a big day at work or in school, and somewhere along the way, any glimpse of irony in those messages was lost.

Extrapolating the quote out a bit to include tenacity, grit, determination, and a billion other buzzwords under the “enthusiasm” umbrella, Harbaugh’s Michigan program fits this mantra to a tee. There are the satellite camps that seemingly pissed everyone off, the trips to the Vatican, the Signing of the Stars, the move to Jordan-brand uniforms and on and on. In the last three years, no program has recruited or re-branded itself more enthusiastically than the Wolverines.

But that intensity, that aggression has not always translated to the field - especially against top-end competition. Why?

BYU v Michigan Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Yes, yes, I know, there are the two annihilations of Florida and their shark-cuddling coach; there’s the 97-0 three-game stretch from 2015 that included wins over two top-25 teams in BYU and Northwestern; and then there’s my personal favorite Harbaugh victory of all, the 49-10 massacre against the Nittany Lions last year before they found their stride and got healthy at linebacker.

Let’s throw in the clearly-personal Rutgers demolition to boot: this program clearly has a sixth gear when Harbaugh is ticked off that all great programs need to have. But that has come against good teams or mediocre ones, not great.

What is worrisome, however, is how infrequently that sixth gear has shown up this year, and how absent it’s been in the biggest moments of the Harbaugh era. To be fair to Harbaugh, this program got turned around right away from the depths of the Hoke administration, so we can understand - logically, if not emotionally - why this team couldn’t reach the highest peaks in either of the last two years. (2016 will always hurt, though, because they were so close.)

But in 2017, the Wolverines have trailed at the half more times (3) than they’ve held a double-digit lead (2). This team is more athletic than previous Michigan teams, but it takes training to turn that ‘athleticism’ into ‘talent.’ NFL players, these guys are not. Not yet.

Fortunately, a defense that thrives on sadism, a defense that was born ready to cause mayhem, and an offense with timely running from Karan Higdon or Ty Isaac can still cause some damage against good teams. But they need to believe - and attack each challenge with enthusiasm unknown to mankind. They haven’t done that so far.

To be fair, some of this is because the coaching staff seems to be feeling its way forward, slowly and carefully, with a drastically less experienced team than it had last year. Jim Harbaugh doesn’t have a veteran team of NFL-ready prospects anymore, and that’s caused the playbook to get cut down quite a bit. (No more ‘train’ formation this year, for example.) And even with a simpler playbook, the offense has still been a mess.

Air Force v Michigan

The play-calling has been questioned a lot, and fairly, but so has the decision to move Drake Harris to defense and even recruiting decisions from two or three years ago. (Nolan Ulizio, huh.) Truth is, there’s always fodder under a microscope.

What’s clear is that this team’s problems are larger than just the failures we point to - it’s also in the non-failures that were averted by athleticism or luck or skill or playing against Purdue. Michigan’s players haven’t been able to embody the reckless abandon that so many people associate with Harbaugh because they’re too young and green to attack at full speed without falling flat on their face. How, when, and why they screw up - it seems like the coaches barely know that better than we do.

It’s clear that this program needs to get back to being aggressive and confident - and to do that, the coaches and players need to be on the same page, whatever that page may be. And that means knowing where the mistakes are.

It’s already happened on defense. And with Jim Harbaugh, Tim Drevno, Pep Hamilton and Greg Frey combined, it has not happened on offense.

Florida v Michigan Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

As a fan, you crave for this team to slam the door on someone of Penn State’s caliber. Maybe being an underdog will help this squad focus on putting together an ugly victory - going 100 mph with a broken-down passing game and no struts. Just go 100 mph no matter what flaws you have, and don’t worry about the crash. That’ll get you over the hump.

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