football Edit

Wolverine Watch: Jim Harbaugh, U-M Looking For Answers

Deliriously delusional Indiana fans surged outside Memorial Stadium, celebrating their team’s first win against Michigan football since Ronald Reagan roamed the White House.

“We want ‘Bama!” they chanted, uproariously. “We want ‘Bama!”

Michigan doesn’t want ‘Bama right now. The Wolverines might not want a ‘Bama reunion team from 1987. And they surely can’t relish a scheduled meeting with Wisconsin a week hence.

Michigan Wolverines football head coach Jim Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh's crew got unmasked for a second straight week, in an historic loss to Indiana.

Secret discussions with the Badgers’ brass remain unconfirmed. But one could hardly blame Michigan officials if they got their medical experts together and urged the COVID-hampered Wisconsin squad to take one more week off — out of an abundance of caution, of course.

Jim Harbaugh’s team suffers from a different type of virus right now. It’s called NotGoodEnoughItis.

The Wolverines aren’t running the ball across the street. They’re giving up passing plays like they’re wearing work boots in the secondary. And they’re piling everything onto a new quarterback, redshirt sophomore Joe Milton, who was starting his third career game.

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It’s not working.

“Every snap he takes, a quarterback playing his third game, he’s getting a lot put on him,” Harbaugh said after Indiana out-raced his crew, 38-21. “Playing from behind, and having to play those kinds of situations …

“It’s a unit. Each has to support the other. The run game, we’ve got to make some improvements.”

Harbaugh’s polishing his prowess for understatement. The Wolverines rushed for 13 yards against the Hoosiers. Then again, when you’re getting run over like deer versus tractor-trailers on the other side of the ball, the passing game takes precedence.

The Wolverines have given up 949 yards of offense over the past two games. They’ve posted zero sacks on opposing quarterbacks during that time.

Now, some credit where credit is due here. Indiana is off to a 3-0 start, featuring arguably their best team in decades. And certainly Michigan State … well, never mind.

The point is, Michigan seems lost right now. Even in a throw-away season, six years into a head coach’s tenure, that’s not where you want to be.

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Somebody asked Harbaugh if he still feels defensive coordinator Don Brown can get the job done against talented offenses. The head coach isn’t throwing anybody under the semi here.

“Yes I do,” he said. “I do, very much so. I love all of our coaches, every coach on the staff. They work extremely hard. Their schemes are really good, and they coach them good. We keep forging ahead.”

But they keep falling behind. Given the remaining schedule, the Wolverines could very well be in for their first sub-.500 season since 2014, a year that ended with Harbaugh getting summoned out of the bullpen.

Back then, Michigan Men and Women everywhere considered the lanky right-hander Goose Gossage in his prime. He’s surely put out the seven-year tire fire that marked U-M from 2008 on, one 11-win season notwithstanding.

Can’t miss. Book passage to the national championship game. Michigan landed the Golden Goose.

Michigan Wolverines football wide receiver A.J. Henning
Freshman A.J. Henning can't haul in this throw from redshirt sophomore quarterback Joe Milton.

Now, some are talking about a cooked goose, and half-dreading what’s ahead.

Surely, the Wolverines can take down Rutgers. Except they couldn’t beat the team that Rutgers beat. Well, there’s always Maryland. Oops, the Terrapins just made Penn State turtle (again).

The Wolverines face a roster mess right now. Their starting offensive tackles missed the Indiana game with injuries. Their much-heralded starting defense ends went out of the game with injuries.

Their secondary can’t get out of its own way. It’s giving up nearly 300 yards per game through the air, surrendering seven passing touchdowns to one picked-off throw. It would have been two, before one Michigan safety broke up a Michael Penix throw that was coming straight down into the arms of another Michigan safety.

There’s youth everywhere, and Harbaugh is talking about it plenty, awaiting practice hopefulness to translate into game competence.

But for now, they’re getting lessons in resilience — with more directly on the horizon.

“Push forward, with toughness,” Harbaugh urged afterward. “Every single guy here, every single player here, every single coach, has experienced that in their life, where they’ve taken the adverse and turned it into an advantage.

"The thing you have to do is push forward, keep going. A lot of people call it staying the course. And doing it toughly, and physically.”

They have to do it in a hurry. They have to do it against teams that are arguably better than the squads that just beat them. And they have to do it in a way that builds momentum for the future, rather than casting it into more doubt.

“We’ve got to get there fast,” Harbaugh insisted. “We’ve got to get there faster.”

The Badgers, meanwhile, are looking to get healthy in a hurry.


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