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Roundtable: On the state of the program and the next task at hand

The Jim Harbaugh era feels like it is at a tipping point.

Michigan v Notre Dame Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Michigan’s game against Indiana this week almost feels like an afterthought coming off of last week’s stunning loss to Michigan State and the backdrop of the craziest presidential election in two decades. Morale around here is not all that high after what we saw on the field last week, so instead of dedicating the whole roundtable this week to the Hoosiers, we figured it would be appropriate to take some time to offer some measured takeaways on the current state of the Wolverines with so many days passed since last weekend’s game.

Without further ado, here’s what our panel of five had to share this week.

What’s your honest assessment of the state of the program and the best course of action moving forward?

Stephen Osentoski: In one word? “Stuck”. You’ll have a coach who will be 3-3 against one rival he really should be 5-1 against, and (likely) 0-6 against one that’s experiencing their best stretch in program history. Like it or not, your performance against rivals will be weighed heavier than anything else.

Best course of action? Get a DC that coaches better to personnel. I love Don Brown, but his defense works really well with excellent corners. My theory is that he schemes around the best version of his players, when it really should be the worst version of them. CB and DT recruiting has been rough and that falls back to the defensive coordinator.

Feels like you have to extend Harbaugh or get rid of him this year. You’re way more likely to have a downgrade at HC if he isn’t coaching in 2021, but at this point, I’m shrug emoji. It is I: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Chris Castellani: Michigan football is essentially what the New York Yankees have been since 2009. Stable, talented, top heavy. But is stable good enough? No. Everyone knows what the expectations are now and everyone knew what the expectations were when Harbaugh got here. With each brutal loss, the Harbaugh tenure inches closer to objective failure relative to the expectations. All losses are bad, but last week’s was inexcusable.

Von Lozon: My honest assessment? You want honesty? How do I put this nicely...hmm. Michigan isn’t getting the job done on the football field. Period. Losing at the Big House on national TV to your in-state rival who just lost to Rutgers the week prior is flat-out embarrassing. Handing Mel Tucker his first win at MSU like that is flat-out embarrassing. Pandemic season or not, Michigan should have hung 50 on that team, and they didn’t get the job done. It all starts with the head coach, so if he is really interested in sticking around the rest of his life, he may want to figure out how to avoid these embarrassing losses from happening.

Dan Plocher: I have been saying for the past three seasons that it is time to move on from Don Brown. I must say, I have appreciated his recruiting efforts and how he has built some of the best pass-rushing units in the country with his ridiculous amount of blitzing. The issue is that everyone in the world knows how to beat his defense. The two words that every Michigan fan cringes when they hear: crossing routes. He has done so little to change up his scheme and well-coached teams nearly always find a way to torch his defense. It is time they move on from him on the defensive side of the ball.

Anthony Broome: If there’s apathy towards the outlook of the program right now, I kind of get it. Michigan currently is a known commodity. The way that things are currently set up this is a program that in a normal season will probably win anywhere between 8-10 games with a loss to Ohio State thrown in there with a head-scratcher or two. For a lot of programs, that’s fine! But given the talent that Michigan brings in and the resources they have available, it just feels like they should be further along than they are. The 2015 season was a pleasant surprise. The 2016 campaign was promising but ended in heartbreak. We were patient with a young team that had no quarterback in 2017. Blowouts against OSU in back-to-back years mixed with puzzling efforts against Wisconsin, and now Michigan State, are not acceptable. Five years ago? Ok. Three years ago? Understandable. The excuses have dried up after losing a rivalry game at home as a three-touchdown favorite.

With one year left on Jim Harbaugh’s contract, there needs to be a long, hard look at what the future holds. I still think an extension will get done, likely sometime in the spring, but at the very least, Harbaugh probably needs to consider changes on the defensive side of the ball or else Don Brown might cost the entire staff their jobs.

What perspective have you gained in the days since last weekend’s loss to Michigan State?

Stephen Osentoski: Michigan’s loss was such a myriad of “one guy away”. If Michigan’s CBs were just a LITTLE better....if Mason had correctly IDed the LB on that stretch play...if Erick All had pulled in that pass to make it 3rd and short....etc etc etc.

Outside of the CB-play, there were rough performances from a few players, but MOST of the time the plays were there, the passes were open, the blocks were in place...but ONE thing went wrong. The issue is, it popped up across both sides of the ball and across multiple position groups. That makes it harder for me to be flippant, but speaks more to overall preparedness / focus than anything else.

Chris Castellani: I’ll say this, I was more nervous this week because of the election than I was during last week’s game. Does that count as perspective? I’m gonna count it as perspective. Why not?

Von Lozon: Michigan’s cornerback recruiting has been lackluster of the past few years. It’s last big time CB recruit was Ambry Thomas in 2017. He was set to be the best guy at the position this year, but then he, rightfully so, opted out to focus on his NFL career. That move has ultimately proved Michigan wasn’t ready for life without Thomas. The guys they’ve thrown out there the first two games of the season haven’t shown me much, so they have GOT to be better on the recruiting trail moving forward at that position.

Dan Plocher: Michigan was humbled. There was so much hype surrounding the team after the impressive win on the road against a depleted Minnesota team. There was talk within the fan base of maybe beating Ohio State, Joe Milton being the next Patrick Mahomes (even if it was said in jest), and a College Football Playoff run after one game in an absurd 2020 year. We all knew the flaws that the Wolverines had in their secondary and the overall inexperience the team has, but some chose to ignore it and looked past the Spartans. They made the Wolverines pay.

Anthony Broome: The further we have gotten away from it, the further it becomes clear just how bad a loss that was. Someone can feel free to debate or correct me, but it looks to me like Mel Tucker currently has more program-altering victories than Harbaugh does, and that is frustrating. It seems like the staff felt like if they stuck to their game plan, MSU would eventually crack. We have seen that happen before, but when Sparty was able to counterpunch, Michigan just refused to shake things up. If it was in a vacuum, okay. But the argument can be made that this is the worst loss Michigan has suffered since Appalachian State.

Indiana has not beaten Michigan since 1987 and has lost 27-straight in the series. How fearful are you of the streak being snapped and why?

Stephen Osentoski: On a scale of 1-10, definitely 27.

Indiana has a solid QB in Penix, some weapons on the outside that are (probably) better than what MSU had out there, and a RB that’s scary. I’m expecting the offense to bounce back, but this is going to be a shootout.

Chris Castellani: I feel relatively confident in Michigan’s chances this week simply because Michael Penix, while a true playmaker, may not be accurate enough to pick on Michigan’s DB’s the way Rocky did. My fear is at like a 5 out of 10.

Von Lozon: Very. I think it’s a real possibility Michigan leaves Bloomington at 1-2. Michael Penix Jr. looks like a very capable QB, and Whop Philyor is among the better wide receivers in the conference. If Ricky White was able to torch Michigan for almost 200 yards, Philyor should be able to top that easily. For the first time in the Harbaugh era, I am actually concerned about the defense more than the offense. *gulp*

Dan Plocher: More than usual, but not really. Indiana’s defense forced three turnovers against Penn State and then beat Rutgers. Michigan has not turned the ball over yet this season and if they run their offensive gameplan effectively, and find a way to shut down Indiana’s top wide receiver Whop Philyor, they should be victorious. Indiana has one of their better teams in recent memory, but there is still a talent gap between the Wolverines and the Hoosiers. If the coaching staff sets the team up correctly they should have the advantage.

Anthony Broome: There’s a fear of it every season because Indiana just always seems to be there. This is perhaps the best Hoosiers team a lot of us have seen since 1987 and it feels like they have the goods to pull it off. Coming off of last week’s game, we’re on as high alert as it feels like we have ever been around these parts.

Is there anything Michigan can show you in this game that will prove to you last week was a mirage?

Stephen Osentoski: Need to see the offense return to week 1 form. Seemed like the focus on establishing the interior run was beat into their brains, for whatever reason. So exploiting what the defense is giving to you would be a nice change from last week.

Defensively? Not sure. That’s a talent issue at CB and DT that can only be mitigated to a certain point. I doubt we see much better this week.

Chris Castellani: They can go back in time and replay last week’s game and remember to show up for this one.

Von Lozon: Nope. Not a damn thing.

Dan Plocher: No. Because last week happened. They were exposed on every level. I truly don’t know if there is a way they can recover from that loss until they play Sparty next year. My standards for the Michigan program is College Football Playoff or bust, even in a COVID-stricken year. There is no way, even if they win-out (which is HIGHLY unlikely), that the committee can look past the horrible performance they put up against a first-year head coach with a far less imposing roster.

Anthony Broome: I hate thinking this way, but it’s almost as if them playing really well and fixing their issues on both sides of the ball would make what happened last week even more frustrating. Now, if they put up 70 on the road or something, maybe an eyebrow gets raised. The only thing that could prove to me that the MSU game was a fluke is running the table through the rest of the conference season.

What happens on Saturday and what is your score prediction?

Stephen Osentoski: I do think Michigan will bounce back to make this interesting, but man am I discouraged from last week. I’m back to “show me something” mode. Indiana 38, Michigan 27

Chris Castellani: Michigan does what they were unable to do against MSU, which is run the ball effectively. Defensive intensity is turned up following last week’s dud. Michigan pulls away in the second half. They win 27-17.

Von Lozon: More pain. More anger. More embarrassment. Prove me wrong, Harbaugh. Indiana 31, Michigan 20

Dan Plocher: Michigan wins 28-17. I know Indiana has almost had Michigan’s number over the past couple of seasons, but the Wolverines will continue to fend them off for at least another year. Penn State put up 270 more yards than Indiana in the loss. Had they not turned the ball over, they would have walked away with the win in Bloomington. The same thing will be said about Michigan on Saturday. If they can come into the game with the right mentality, the right gameplan, and don’t turn the football over, I expect them to win on Saturday.

Anthony Broome: Despite all of our negative vibes coming off of last week’s game, I do think that Michigan pulls this off on Saturday. Indiana is riding high after a 2-0 start and Michigan has to get its act together. I think the classic “up/down theory” comes into play and the Wolverines win a nail-biter. Michigan 31, Indiana 28