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Michigan Football: More hustle, toughness necessary

Jim Harbaugh said there will be an emphasis on physicality, toughness, and hustle in practices going forward

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Michigan Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Football is a game where we call the players warriors, we nickname the field the game is played on the gridiron. We call the engagement between the offensive and defensive lines a battle in the trenches. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has called the sport “the last bastion of toughness for our young men”.

Football is as physical as any sport on Earth, a game that requires mental and physical toughness, and a heart that doesn’t give up or let up.

Following Michigan’s 35-14 loss to Wisconsin, though, toughness wasn’t a word Harbaugh used to describe his team at his Monday presser. “We didn’t play physical enough,” Harbaugh said. “We were out-hustled. I take responsibility for that.”

“We saw it. You saw it. The entire football world saw it. It wasn’t good enough. It’s not acceptable. Unacceptable to us,” Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh said he believes a team can get more physical in season, and physicality will be a focus for the team in practice. “Emphasis on physicality, emphasis on toughness, and emphasis on hustle,” Harbaugh said. “Make it part of the practice plan more and also playing the players that are dedicated to playing physically and hustling, hustling at all times and get those players in the ball game.”

The improvement needed in terms of physicality and toughness is team deep, not just one position group. “We’re going to expect our offensive line to move people and that didn’t happen in this past game,” Harbaugh said. “We weren’t as physical as our opponent on the offensive line or defensive line.”

The self reflective criticism isn’t coming from just Harbaugh or the national media, his players realize what they didn’t do well. Michigan tackle Jon Runyan didn’t think the team hustled at times during the loss. “Not gonna call out anyone but yeah, I feel like there were some plays where effort could’ve been better,” Runyan said. “I think along with effort comes execution.”

While some may point to schematic issues on both sides of the ball that contributed to the loss and execution of the gameplan, a lot of what transpired coincided with Wisconsin physically dominating the Wolverines and showing more effort down after down. Harbaugh gave no excuses for their performance, saying they’re going to get back to work so what happened in Madison doesn’t happen again.

Michigan got punched in the mouth and beat up by the bully on the playground, and now they have the choice to get tougher for their next run in with a bully and hit them first, or at least endure a lick and deliver a decisive counter-punch.

Harbaugh isn’t going to run away from criticisms or what happened against Wisconsin, and the fact he’s publicly saying his team was out-hustled and didn’t play physical enough serves as a message to himself, his players, and staff that the effort they gave wasn’t acceptable. It’s getting back to the basics for Michigan; play with heart, play with a high motor, and don’t let your opponent push you around, mentally or physically.

It’s anyone’s guess how the rest of the season will go for the Wolverines, but the Jim Harbaugh that appeared in front of the media on Monday had a lot of energy and looked determined to set the toughness standard. For a Michigan team that needs to get tougher, it’s Harbaugh who will have to be the one leading the charge and sticking out his chest, being the embodiment of strength and resolve. The team will be looking at their head coach and his energy, especially after a big loss, and Harbaugh realizes this. And based on Harbaugh’s demeanor and own words, he’s attacking the problems head on. We’ll see if a heightened emphasis on toughness, physicality, and hustle provide new and improved results.

Harbaugh coached some of the most physically renowned football teams of the past decade as the San Francisco 49ers head coach. And maybe a horrible Saturday on the road is what it took as The Beatles once said, to “get back to where you once belonged.”