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What we learned this week: Moving backwards

Michigan has regressed back to something that resembles the era that preceded Jim Harbaugh.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The good news about taking a beating at the hands of the Indiana Hoosiers, their first win against Michigan since 1987, was that most of us were already broken both mentally and spiritually from the week before.

To quote the always eloquent South Park, “How do you kill that which has no life?”

What we witnessed on Saturday is a facsimile of the waning moments of the Brady Hoke era; a team in a complete and utter tailspin with way more questions than answers.

To be clear, I firmly believe Jim Harbaugh is a far superior coach than Brady Hoke. You don’t steamroll a quality Notre Dame team in a monsoon a year ago if you’re a total bum. You don’t send a boatload of guys to the NFL if you’re not doing some things right.

However, what we learned on Saturday was that we have seen the best Jim Harbaugh has to offer as the coach at Michigan, and most would agree that it is not good enough, or consistent enough to warrant the paycheck.

Coaching jobs are weird. In no other field on earth would what Harbaugh has done jive with what he is being paid.

If a surgeon was getting paid like one of the top three surgeons in the nation, and he or she was botching 30 to 40 percent of his or her operations every year, how would their job security look after six years of that?

What about a hotshot pilot who can mostly land every plane, but towards the end of the year when they fly their most important flight, they can’t even get the thing off the ground and just smash it into a barley field instead?

Michigan may never be able to be Clemson, Alabama, or even Ohio State- but they should at the very least be a competent team that is never in a full rebuild like this, not at this point in a coaches career with the resources he has access to.

This defense is historically bad. I could have conceivably been convinced what happened against MSU was a one-off, but Indiana showed us that was the reality we live in. Michigan has lost four of their last five games, and in those losses Don Brown’s defense has given up over 400 yards each time, including that wonderful experience last year where they gave up 577 yards to Ohio State.

Harbaugh came out in defense of Don Brown after the loss, but we have heard similar rhetoric before and then see him still move on from a position coach. Don Brown is a quality defensive coordinator if he has cornerbacks that are better than your receivers and no weak links on the defensive line. If he doesn’t have above average players at those positions, he will still coach the defense as though he does. When the defensive finally switched to more zone looks to help the beleaguered cornerbacks, they looked like someone had just drawn it up on a cocktail napkin in the huddle six seconds prior.

On offense, Michigan could not get into any type of rhythm running the ball, and had to rely on Joe Milton’s arm for points. There is a ton to like about the skill position players on offense, and they could still develop into something special. Having both of their starting tackles sidelined for this one certainly did not help. I thought the reshuffled line did okay given the circumstances, but Michigan doesn’t have the elite quarterback play to overcome the easy penetration from Indiana all afternoon.

Drops remain an issue as well. Erick All is so deep in his own head, he may need to take a week off to reset. I would also like to see a running back get a chance to get into a groove rather than switching back and forth all game. Haskins and Corum look like the best 1-2 punch, and should probably be given first dibs.

To be frank, I am not sure that I learned anything new watching this game. I think what I saw was confirmation of a haunting and ever-present suspicion that the days of Jim Harbaugh were waning, and we have already seen the glory days of this staff. I also learned that lite beer won’t be enough to get me through the pain of watching some of these games. I learned that “Jim Harbaugh, quarterback whisperer” is not a thing that exists.

There is still time to right the ship and save face for this season, but with Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State still on the schedule and Maryland and Rutgers looking much improved it is just as likely that Michigan does not win another game on their schedule.

Even in a weird year where empty stadiums, early departures, and uncertain off-seasons have maybe leveled the playing field in some ways; that is nowhere near good enough for a program that has no business ever being outside of the top 10-15 in the country.

With this year being what it is, and revenue streams all but choked off due to the pandemic, there might not be any way to move on from Harbaugh or Don Brown until after next season. Which sends a shiver down my spine to just to type.

Like Gorgeous George said in Snatch when he finds out Tommy is taking them to buy a caravan from Brad Pitt’s camp of boxing gypsies: “This will get messy.”