Michigan football: The wheels have fallen off Jim Harbaugh's cart in Ann Arbor
Another weekend has past, and the Michigan Wolverines have gone through another program-defining loss — this time at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers, 49-11, in Ann Arbor.
There weren’t any fans at The Big House, which is probably a good thing for Jim Harbaugh’s team, which is now 1-3 and desperately searching for some sort of identity after being embarrassed at home by the slight-favorite Badgers.
Things can’t get any worse right now, but Harbaugh remains committed to the idea of improvement and team cohesiveness — despite the fact that it looks like the wheels have fallen off the cart.
“We were thoroughly beaten in every phase,” Harbaugh said during the postgame Zoom conference call. “We didn’t really do anything well. We did not play good. We did not coach good. We’re not in a good place with the execution. We’re not in a good place adjusting — and what we were doing schematically. (We’re) not in a good place as a football team right now, and that falls on me. We have to get back to, really, going back to the basics in everything that we do — in everything that we’re doing. Everybody’s got to do better …”
It was a familiar sound byte.
Harbaugh’s been saying the same thing for the past three weeks.
Each loss his Wolverines suffer seems to be Harbaugh’s worst.
First it was Michigan State, then Indiana — and then, it was Wisconsin, which bulldozed its way to a 28-0 lead in the first half, effectively putting the game away with 3 quarters to play. Michigan football in 2020 wasn’t supposed to be this way; it wasn’t supposed to be a showcase of the Wolverines’ ineffectiveness and woeful offensive efforts.
“They had extra blockers on the perimeter,” Harbaugh explained while trying to justify the way that Wisconsin owned every phase of the game Saturday night. “We couldn’t set … we didn’t set an edge all night. As I said, there were things … we weren’t containing.”
Offensive line play has been a hot topic during Harbaugh’s 6 years in Ann Arbor. During the past two years, it’s been clear that the Wolverines have improved up front. But Saturday was a painful reminder that UM has a long way to go before even considering itself as a robust, trench-owning type of team.
Michigan gave up 5 TFLs and did little to protect starting quarterback Joe Milton, who completed just 9 of 19 attempts and threw 2 interceptions — 2 picks during his first 4 passes.
Again, things can’t get much worse for the Wolverines.
“As I said, every part is not where … it’s not close to where it should be,” Harbaugh said, clearly reeling from yet another heartbreaking loss. “We’re not stopping the run, stopping the pass. (We’re not) running the ball offensively.”
Execution has been beyond poor for Michigan, which had a season-low 10 first downs against the Badgers. The Wolverines got into the red zone just once, leaving with zero points and a bruised ego.
“That starts with me. That starts with our coaches and also every person here,” Harbaugh said. “Understanding what we’re supposed to do and then going executing it.”
The Wolverines haven’t looked like this since the down years with Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke. Former players, alumni and fans have had their fill of this latest installment of Wolverines football. Media has grown tired of writing the same thing, week after week, about a team that’s grossly underachieving.
It’s a broken record.
Comical, in a sense.
Harbaugh said that his team has to re-evaluate the situation at every position, from the players to the coaches. He said that Michigan has to look at itself and really dig deep in order to finish the 2020 season on a high note. He’s said all the things that a losing coach says. He has to know that the ride is coming to an end.
A crashing end.
“My thoughts right now, sitting here, you now, right after the game — it sucks,” said captain Carlo Kemp, a 5th-year senior DL. “We work so hard throughout the entire week and have a good week of practice … and we come out here, and what’s happening in practice is not translating to the game. We’re just, right now, at a pivotal point where we’ve still got to have that ‘buy-in,’ we’ve still got to have that belief in everything that we’re doing. Because we do a lot of very good things and we have a lot of very good players on offense and defense — it’s just getting it to come together — putting it all together on Saturday.”
During the past handful of years under Harbaugh, Michigan built an identity by way of power football — running hard, utilizing the tight ends and bruising its way down the field. Saturday, UM averaged just 2.5 yards per carry and appeared to be overwhelmed at every turn by the Badgers.
The first half was one of Michigan’s worst under Harbaugh, which seems to be a recurring theme of late.
“You know, things just happened and it played out like that,” Kemp said. “The game started off with 2 turnovers and we as a defense had a chance to get stops … hold them to field goals. And that’s something we didn’t end up doing. We had those turnovers that led to 14 points and we had to build ourselves and overcome that deficit the rest of the game. Looking back at it, something going forward is … sudden change, adversity strikes. We’ve got to take it upon ourselves and we’ve got to get those stops and try to hold them to as little points as possible in those moments.”
Kemp talked the captain talk. He did what he could to paint a happy picture. Improvement, staying together — all the standard speech that comes out of a captain’s mouth during tumultuous times. It was clear that he wasn’t happy with the outcome, but it was also clear that he wasn’t going to let the world know that his team has all but imploded.
Now 1-3, the worst start under Harbaugh, the Wolverines have all but turned it in this year. There won’t be a Big Ten title. There won’t be a College Football Playoff appearance. There probably won’t even be a bowl game.
Another loss to add to the pile.
First, it was 27-24 to MSU. Then it was 38-21 to Indiana. Then it was 49-11 to Wisconsin.
“Where we’re at right now, the only thing that we can do is — we’ve just got to stay together,” Kemp said. “The only people that can affect a game and the only people that believe in us, is everybody in this locker room.”
It’s a sad end to what was supposed to be a comeback season for the Wolverines. The 2020 season was supposed to be a building block for the future. But instead, 2020 has been a reminder that the Wolverines are nowhere close to what anyone expected in Year 6 of Harbaugh’s tenure.
“We’ve still got to have that faith and we’ve got to have that belief in each other,” Kemp said. “We have to get back to work on Monday and watch that film and be very critical of yourself and as an individual and ask yourself in the mirror if you’re doing everything that you can to help this team win.”