Michigan football: Why 38-21 L to Indiana was Jim Harbaugh's worst loss with Wolverines
Jim Harbaugh just can’t seem to win the big games. His teams flounder under the pressure of must-win scenarios. Yeah, the loss in Week 2 to Michigan State hurt the Wolverines, casting many of their players into disbelief; it was called Harbaugh’s worst loss yet at Michigan.
Losing to Ohio State every year does nothing for program confidence.
That road loss to Iowa in 2016 was a heartbreaker.
However, Saturday’s loss at Indiana deserves heavy consideration for Harbaugh’s worst loss since taking over the team in 2015.
Prior to this week, Indiana hadn’t beaten Michigan since 1987. Prior to this week, Indiana hadn’t ranked higher than its current No. 13 spot since 1988 (when it peaked at No. 13). Harbaugh has never beaten a top-15 ranked team on the road.
Thanks to the Hoosiers, Harbaugh is now 0-8 in that department. Thanks to Harbaugh, the Hoosiers now have another sunny chapter in the book chronicling their ascent under coach Tom Allen.
This wasn’t the forecast when Harbaugh was introduced as Brady Hoke’s replacement. Michigan was supposed to return to glory days of yesteryear. Despite being a competitive team, with 8-, 9- and 10-win seasons, the Wolverines just haven’t matured into a consistent power.
Only once have they finished better than 3rd in the B1G East Division.
They haven’t been to the College Football Playoff.
Now with two glaring losses and a tough road ahead, starting next week vs. No. 10 Wisconsin, the Wolverines seem to be in a tailspin. The wheels have all but fallen off the B1G title contender wagon.
But Harbaugh isn’t giving up just yet. That’s not what coaches do at this juncture.
“These players… you love the way that they play and you love what they do in their preparation and their practice,” Harbaugh said during Saturday’s postgame Zoom call with reporters. “You see it — they just have to pull it out of themselves. For us, as a coaching staff, it’s (our job) to pull it out them (so they can) make those game plays. There’s guys who can do it…”
With two starters missing due to injury on the offensive line (RT Jalen Mayfield, LT Ryan Hayes), and a host of young players at other positions, the Wolverines are now on the brink of either having an “a-ha” moment or falling deeper into a hole. Harbaugh is confident that the latter won’t be the case as Michigan aims to salvage 2020.
“They’re learning how to make those plays,” he said. “Guys are strong. They’re talented. The guys play really hard — it’s just being able to trust their fundamentals, techniques and their ability. Trust their innate greatness that will show up in games. We need to make the next step.”
The next step would have been to rebound against the up-and-coming Hoosiers. However, UM failed in that area, further lending legitimacy to Saturday’s loss in Bloomington being the worst “L” of his 6-year tenure in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines need something dramatic to happen in order to combat the sting of a historic loss to Indiana and an embarrassing loss to 3-TD underdog Michigan State, which was annihilated 49-7 by Iowa.
“My personal feeling is that we’re close to doing it,” Harbaugh said, referencing a breakthrough on the field. “You see it done, you see it happening. There are guys who are doing it, you know? Others will get it. You know, you just keep coaching. As a coach, that’s what you do.”
During the postgame presser, WR Cornelius Johnson appeared to be visibly upset. He often paused for moments before answering questions, making sure to avoid saying anything that could be taken out of context. He respectfully declined to answer a question pertaining to Michigan being “down” and how it would “pick itself back up again.”
Safety Dax Hill traveled a similar route during his round with reporters as well.
It doesn’t take a clinical professional to realize that the Wolverines are suffering and in desperate need of something positive.
A win vs. Indiana would have been just that.
But it didn’t work out that way. Instead, the Wolverines gave up 9 passing plays of 15-plus yards, including a trio of 30-yarders. If you thought MSU was able to poke holes in UM’s defense, you need to see what the Hoosiers did Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
It wasn’t just a tough loss following a bad loss to the Spartans. It was more than that.
Michigan couldn’t rebound on the road against a team that hadn’t beaten it since 1987, and after falling 27-24 to MSU.
Getting lit up by Ohio State is expected. Losing a bowl game, unfortunately for Michigan, has become common under Harbaugh as well.
But not a loss like Saturday’s to Indiana.
There is no excuse, regardless of Indiana’s talent level.
It’s almost crazy to think that after 5 full seasons that we’re not talking about Harbaugh’s successes at Michigan. Instead, we’re talking about the regular failure to win the games that matter most.