Michigan Football went down to Columbus and got their pants pulled down. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. It was a systematic failure in every single phase of the game and its hard to pull a single positive takeaway from this. If you’re furious, you should be. If you’re speechless and shell-shocked, I totally understand.
In its two biggest games of the year against the two best teams on the schedule, Michigan was a lost puppy that had no idea how to find its way home. Tentative, conservative and scared was how they played and it was how the game was coached. Urban Meyer was more than happy to oblige and take advantage of it in a 62-39 destruction of the Wolverines in Columbus on Saturday.
Michigan Football and Jim Harbaugh, when the chips are down and the task is tallest, is nothing but college football’s version of Cameron Frye.
It hurts to write. It hurts to think about, but it’s the cold hard truth. Michigan is back to winning the games it should win, but rarely wins the game it needs to win to be a national power. It was all there for the taking on Saturday, and it goes far beyond a trip to Indianapolis. This was a perception-changer. This was to be a passing of the baton in the Big Ten. This was an announcement to college football that Michigan is the power its paying its head coach to be.
This was a chance to send Columbus into chaos and the cries about Meyer’s job status to get louder.
“Nah. Don’t want it.”
People who are a hell of a lot smarter than me can break down the film and give you longform articles on what happened to Don Brown’s defense and what wasn’t working. The eyeball test simply says it failed and it did so in historically bad fashion. That one got out of hand for those guys and it was tough to see them go out that way and Devin Bush and David Long get injured. Brandon Watson was good all year, but was torched in Columbus. This unit got beat badly, soundly and embarrassingly. Dwayne Haskins said after the game he saw stuff on film he liked and he exploited it. All it took was a capable quarterback to exploit it.
This defense getting smacked around like it did was perhaps the most shocking thing I’ve ever seen take place on a football field. If the Buckeyes had scored 41 points or something like that, it’s a bad day at the office and a sign that they were exploited. The 62 that were surrendered is inexplicable. Their biggest advantage was supposed to be in the trenches on both sides of the ball, but they couldn’t generate a pass rush or adequately get any push up front on offense.
Which leads us to the offense. The difference between Michigan and Ohio State right now and the difference in the game on Saturday was that the Buckeyes had a quarterback they trusted to go out and rack up yards and make plays. Michigan had a quarterback arguably as talented, but all season long he has felt like a piece of the offense instead of the focal point and they instead continued their obsession with hurling steel chairs against the line of scrimmage and trying to run the ball.
All season long we were waiting for Shea Patterson to be unleashed and it never really happened. The run game worked so well throughout the year and it’s understandable to wait things out and hope that break in the defense happens because it had all season long. But when the chips were down and Michigan had to adapt, they either couldn’t do it or chose not to try.
Patterson never felt like someone to build around. He simply was someone with a unique skill-set and the talent to add some wrinkles to what otherwise was basically what Harbaugh has always wanted to do. The personnel and the positional coaching was much improved, and that showed on the field, but the approach to the offense only really felt like it changed a little bit. With a talented quarterback and a wide receiving corps with so many big bodied athletes and a guy like Chris Evans at running back, it feels like a missed opportunity to not spread it out more.
But again, hindsight is always 20/20.
With the loss to Ohio State, Harbaugh’s Michigan now moves to 2-7 in rivalry games. Those two wins are against Michigan State teams that were 3-9 in 2016 and one that is currently in a dogfight with Rutgers as of this writing (note: MSU would move to 7-5 after a 14-10 win). The Wolverines are good enough to beat the teams they should beat and they’re as talented as almost any team in the country, but they cannot get the job done for whatever reason. When things go as bad as they did on Saturday from top to bottom, that doesn’t fall on anyone other than the head coach.
Is this what Michigan is? The body of work suggests so. But it’s not acceptable and the excuses and margin for error are completely gone. We’re tired of “what until next year” and rightfully so, but 2019 has to be it. The Game against OSU next year could very well be for the East again (it had better be), and if Michigan loses again, someone needs to look long and hard at what they expect this program to be. If the bar is to win the Big Ten and get to the playoff and those goals fall short, the investment in what’s going right now isn’t money well-spent. Period.
I’m not sure what the way out of this hole is for Harbaugh. The answer right now isn’t to fire him. Heck, it may not even be to make major changes to the staff. But it feels like a change that should be considered is having Harbaugh step back from the offense, assume the CEO role of a head coach and bring in a young up-and-comer to give the keys to the offense now. Everyone is going to clamor for Kliff Kingsbury, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him get a call from NFL teams as an OC or QBs coach. But in theory, that’s the type of guy you’d want.
Defensively, you don’t get rid of Don Brown. You just don’t. And he won’t retire after this year, not after what just occurred in Columbus. His defense will come to play next year and hopefully they wind up having the athletes to not let what happened on Saturday happen again. They could play this game 1000 times and what the defense did in this year’s game wouldn’t happen in 999 of them.
And so players like Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich, who were nearly non-factors on Saturday, see their legacies end without having won anything of note. It’s disappointing, but now the younger players have a chance to use this as fuel ad do their part to prevent another setback. The last 15 years would suggest it’s going to elude them, but the opportunity is there.
There were too many milestones and narratives killed off this year to pull the plug on this coaching staff, but nobody can sit here and say it was a successful season. Not now. Not after that. Especially in that, quite simply, they were a better football team than the Buckeyes all season long. One team played its ass off with its season on the line and another came out and was sloppy, undisciplined and unprepared. It’s an all-too-familiar trend.
We expect this team to be a national title contender. They cannot do that until they win their own conference. If it doesn’t happen next season, it’s time to have a conversation about the guy and the staff that can make it happen. If the takeaway is that “well, Michigan can’t do better than Harbaugh,” then your question about what you should expect moving forward is answered.
Because right now, Michigan is Ohio State’s little brother.