The old adage “anything that can go wrong will go wrong” summed up Michigan’s 49-11 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday night.
The team had just one total yard of offense after the first quarter, they trailed the Badgers 28-0 at halftime, the biggest halftime deficit in the history of Michigan Stadium (which opened in 1928). Anything, and everything, was going wrong.
“Didn’t really do anything well, and did not play good. Did not coach good. Not in a good place with the execution, not in a good place adjusting and what we were doing schematically. So not in a good place as a football team right now,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game. “That falls on me, and gotta get after, really going back to basics. Look at everything we do and everything that we’re doing and everybody’s got to do better. And as I said, I’m at the front of the line in accountability.”
It wasn’t just one facet of the game where Michigan struggled. The defense couldn’t get the Badgers off the field, players seemed confused on both sides of the ball and played with hesitation, they were outschemed, outplayed, and outcoached. “Every part is not close to where it should be. Stopping the run, stopping the pass, running the football offensively, throwing in the passing game, all things thoroughly not where they need to be in terms of execution,” Harbaugh said. “So that starts with me, starts with our coaches and also every person here. Understanding what we’re supposed to do, and then going and executing it. If somebody’s not executing it, then why is that? Are we communicating? Are we coaching it well enough? There’s nothing right now to say that an acceptable job is being done right now, players or coaches.”
After losses Harbaugh usually tries to find slivers of hope, looks for the good in the loss, sticks up for his players and coaches. This time his tone and demeanor was different. He knows the collective effort of players, coaches, and himself personally wasn’t anything to be proud of. Harbaugh did not speak with any hint of delusion, he knows the team has major problems and big steps must be taken to correct what has led to their 1-3 start.
Everything is on the table to turn the season around, the trajectory of the program. Harbaugh said everything will be evaluated. “The thing that stands out the most is the coaching. The players to do what they’re asked to do, so making sure that they have an understanding of what to do, and therefore they can go for it,” Harbaugh said. “There seems to be hesitation, there seems to be some confusion, some lack of communication on both sides of the ball offensively and defensively and getting things adjusted to, getting things fixed, just identifying how to improve in those areas are some of the first things that we’re going to address.”
This Michigan team could look different moving forward. Minor tweaks could turn into major changes. Multiple starting jobs could very well be up for grabs. Shifts in philosophy on offense and defense may be necessary. Coaches and players may see their responsibilities adjusted in some form. “Go back and look at every fundamental possibility, and address it. So look at what we are doing schematically, because it can only be those three things,” Harbaugh said. “Schematically, who’s doing it, what you’re doing, how you’re doing it. We’ve got to look at all those things right now, and right now I’d say all three need to be addressed.”
It remains to be seen how Harbaugh and the coaching staff implement changes and precisely what will look different schematically. It’s going to be a steep climb out of the hole Michigan dug itself in this season, and the only way to get out of it is to undergo the sometimes painful process of self-reflection, which will identify the problems and hopefully lead to growth. While many from the outside looking in already consider this season a massive failure, the team still has four games left to regain some of their pride and show improvement. The only way to improve is to change the current pattern of things, and it remains to be seen what precisely will change by the time Michigan takes the field next Saturday against Rutgers. What matters in the time between now and then is the head coach isn’t saying ‘everything is fine’, he’s willing to take steps to fix what needs repaired.