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The Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan has become indefensible

These are simply things that cannot and should not happen in year five.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Harbaugh and the way that Michigan has performed through five seasons is no longer something that can be defended. After a thorough and embarrassing performance against the Wisconsin Badgers, questions about the direction of this program finally feel justified, and maybe those of us who held out look dumb for not asking them sooner.

In year five with the money being spent and the players being brought in, this is not a championship-caliber product. This might not even be an eight-win-caliber product as currently constructed. And that is disturbing as hell.

Harbaugh’s teams do not only lose most of their big games. They get their pants pulled down in them.

The function of a coaching staff is to put its team in the best position to succeed on Saturdays, yet critical mistakes and self-inflicted wounds continue to plague this program. If it happens in the vacuum of one game, that’s fine, whatever. But it happens in nearly every game, and that falls directly on the Khaki Man.

Take Saturday’s game as an example.

Even after Don Brown said this below after escaping Army, the Wolverines were manhandled up front by the Badgers, who imposed their will right off the bat, moving the ball at will against his defense.

Regardless of how the defense performed, Michigan was going to need a lift out of an offense that is lost right now in a new system under Josh Gattis. On the first offensive play of the game, Shea Patterson and Ronnie Bell connect on a 68-yard pass play that has the team right on the brink of scoring and tying this game up.

The next three plays went:

  • Timeout
  • Incomplete pass in the endzone
  • Fumble by Ben Mason recovered by the Badgers

And the Mason play is what is the most infuriating one of all. Up until this week, the former fullback had been repping with the defense at tackle. Michigan is clearly banged up at running back with Zach Charbonnet presumably dealing with something based on his usage and Tru Wilson not making the trip. But like the play that Ben VanSumeren fumbled on against Army, they leaned on a guy not used to the job he’s being given to make a play, and Mason fumbles and loses the ball.

Mind you, it was out of the shotgun, as well.

This is the type of overthinking and lunacy that drives us mad about Harbaugh and his coaching staff. Whether it’s Tim Drevno, Pep Hamilton or Harbaugh and Gattis calling the plays, this is a special type of hubris.

The coaching staff is not even giving you a chance to make a play.

From that point on, the Badgers would roll and eventually roar out to a 35-0 lead in the second half. Even coming out of the locker room there was no heart, no fire and no execution.

Through four-plus seasons of the Harbaugh era, the only expectations that have been consistently exceeded is that the Wolverines find new lows to hit in big moments.

Players have to execute, but how are they supposed to do that if they do not have any confidence in what is being called? This does not look like a team willing to fight for its head coach right now, which might be the most damning statement of all.

What Paul Chryst and Wisconsin did to Michigan was show that its brand of football can still work when it is executed and that’s a team that went for the jugular. That is not to say that Michigan’s attempts to update its offense were wrong, but everything right now feels like a half or quarter measure. There’s no speed. There’s not a hell of a lot of space. There’s very little tempo.

It’s disheartening that a team living by the skin of its teeth through its first two football games came out and looked the way it did coming off of a bye week. As frustrating as those first two performances were, this was the worst by far, and despite what the score might look like, is right up there with some of the most embarrassing of the Harbaugh era.

There’s a good chance that they can get somewhat rolling the next three weeks against Rutgers, Iowa and Illinois, but then what? We have not seen anything to suggest this team is ready to go into a hostile environment and win a game.

Michigan on Saturday looked as hopeless as it has in the Harbaugh era and it’s hard to pinpoint where things started to go south these last four-plus years after starting off hotter than anyone expected them to in that first year or two. They will maintain that their goals are still ahead of them, but this was incredibly concerning, and pretty much the breaking point for some of the more reserved fans who were willing to wait and see where things went with Harbaugh.

This team is not going to win the Big Ten. It probably is going to get steamrolled by Ohio State. And that would make it five years of nothing of significance under Harbaugh. The reports can come out all they want about how happy the administration is with running a clean program and the money is coming in. And people will tell you that the only way it improves is if you hire a cheater.

Guess what? You can hire a coach worth half of what Harbaugh makes and he will have them prepared to play a football game. Hell, they will at least have a pulse.

We’re at a pretty critical juncture of the program now. And it goes one of two directions:

  • Fans need to realize that this is what they are. They have not won the Big Ten in almost two decades and have one national title in the modern era. You’ll win nine or ten games a year, but this national power that you think you should have simply doesn’t exist anymore.
  • You stop spending your money and send a message that this is not good enough. As long as they are making money hand over fist, nothing will change. As long as you pay $40 to park on the golf course, then buy your kids tickets and a pretzel or a hot dog, you enable this.

How you choose to approach it is up to you, but how much more of a sample size do you need before coming to grips with the fact that we may have been sold a bill of goods with this regime?

There’s a chance this is the wakeup call they need and they go on a run like Penn State in 2016, but there has not been a bread crumb of evidence that suggests that is even possible. This team is so fundamentally flawed at so many aspects of the game and between the ears that it seems like it would take some sort of divine course correction to get them back on the path of a Big Ten title.

It starts at the top and requires corrections that he may not be capable of after five seasons. At this point, Michigan figuring it out should not be expected. It would be pleasantly surprising. It might even be shocking.

I don’t think that’s what anyone signed up for five years ago. Not at that price.

The biggest bummer of all is that everything the haters have said about the program ring 100 percent true on Saturday, even when they sounded ridiculous and outlandish at the time.

One day maybe Michigan will stop being the butt of college football’s jokes, but for now, we take our medicine once again.