'Not acceptable': Jim Harbaugh determined to get long list of Michigan problems fixed
Ann Arbor – Two days later, and the autopsy didn’t reveal much more than what Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh shared moments after the game.
Wisconsin bulldozed its way through the Wolverines, 35-14, in the Big Ten opener last Saturday, and in the ruins, there were no positives Harbaugh could find. Michigan is 2-1, dropped drastically in the rankings to No. 20 and will face Rutgers (1-2) on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
“Watching film I think it was pretty obvious to everybody that watched it – the entire football world – really from A to Z, wasn’t good, wasn’t good enough,” Harbaugh said Monday at his weekly news conference. “Not acceptable. Starts really with not acceptable for me, so you start self-critical and determined to get it fixed. That speaks for me and everybody on our team, players and coaches. Not a day we’re proud of.
“Starts with, we didn’t play physical enough. We were out-hustled. I take responsibility for that. In many ways we were out-schemed, also take responsibility. That’s my job to make sure we’re completely sound in all that we’re running and how I manage the team and get them to play hard, play tough. As I said, A to Z, you could point to wasn’t good enough. We all take responsibility for that, we’ve all got fingerprints on it. Determined to get it fixed is where we’re at right now.”
Harbaugh is correct, the problems were across the board, but perhaps most glaring was the lackluster play of the offensive line. Michigan mustered 40 rushing yards and was forced to attempt 42 passes because the Wolverines were playing from behind – they trailed 35-0 late in the third quarter.
Shea Patterson started and played most of the game, but backup Dylan McCaffrey started the second half because, Harbaugh said, Patterson was being “evaluated” at halftime. McCaffrey suffered a concussion late in the third quarter on a targeting call and Patterson returned and also took several hits. McCaffrey is not expected to be available Saturday, and Patterson, who appeared to have some issues with his right shoulder late in the game, is probable. Third-string Joe Milton is now the backup.
“We expect our offensive line to move people,” Harbaugh said. “That didn’t happen this past game. We weren’t as physical as our opponent in the offensive line or defensive line.”
Michigan is 94th nationally in sacks allowed with eight through three games. The Badgers were credited with seven quarterback hurries.
“We have got to do a better job of protecting the quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “Shea’s a tough guy, but we’ve got to give him time to throw and make reads, do what he’s capable of doing. He’s a very good player.”
Without an offensive line getting a consistent push, the domino effect begins. This was supposed to be a speed-in-space offense under new coordinator Josh Gattis, and the Wolverines were expecting to come out and dictate to defenses. The offensive linemen said in the offseason their group would be the strength of the offense, but that hasn’t been the case. Turnovers certainly have squashed a number of drives – they have two interceptions and seven fumbles, including Ben Mason’s drop in the red zone on Michigan’s first possession against Wisconsin – but when the Wolverines have the ball, there is no sense of rhythm and a sense of lost in space.
Harbaugh was asked if he will start to play more of a role in play calling.
“No. Josh, is …. we believe in,” he said before finishing his thought. “I’ve talked about this before, I believe in our coaches, I believe in our players. In the ways we haven’t been successful in this past game, it was thorough. It was a lot. But I know our coaches are determined. They’re not accepting it. Got to do a better job. Put that on all of us. Same thing we feel about if we were a player, a coach, that self-critical is the way we’re looking at it. We’re looking at it determined, without excuse to get it fixed.”
The offensive linemen know they need to fix their issues. Michigan is 97th in total offense, averaging 364 yards a game, and 97th in rushing, a sub-standard average 127 yards a game.
“Coming into this game we knew Wisconsin was going to try to throw everything at us being on the road and not really being able to hear any cadence,” offensive tackle Jon Runyan said. “Sometimes the first thing you see, especially as an offensive tackle, is the movement of the guy across from you. You’re getting off the ball late and they’re throwing everything at us and they mixed up stuff we didn’t see on film. They started blitzing the back a lot. Main thing we want to do in protection is not having the running back block, but sometimes he had to do it. They just did a good job getting past our protection.”
Michigan thought it could push Wisconsin around as it had last season at Michigan Stadium.
“We had a game plan going into this game and that was to kinda hit Wisconsin how we hit them last year,” Runyan said. “But when we got knocked back on our heels like that during a game, we had to stray away from that. And playing catch-up the whole time. We weren’t able to use those quarterback reads like we did last year and pull a big 75-yard run like Shea hit last year on them.
“It was difficult when you’re throwing the ball 42 times a game, which I haven’t seen at Michigan since I’ve been here. Wisconsin played the brand of football they’re used to, which is that power run, being big and physical, ripping and roaring up the field. Our defense picked up in the second half. I just wish that we were able to execute more on offense and make it more of a game in the second half but we weren’t able to.”
Runyan, who missed the first two games with an injury, was hoping to give the line a boost. He said they were prepared for what the Badgers’ defensive line would throw at them. Still, they got little to no push. The Badgers had six tackles for loss
“It was difficult,” Runyan said. “We were able to block it so well last year. Kinda had the same game plan, I felt like we had an even better one going into this game. But we got punched in the mouth early and often, and we were never really able to recover from that. And I take credit in being part of that and not being able to help this offense move in a way it wanted."
There will be an emphasis on the offensive players focusing on all the details. Harbaugh didn’t say this is necessarily the function of working in a new system, but that has caused some of the hiccups. It will be all about the details as the Wolverines prepare for Rutgers.
“Players have to focus. Always have to play with focus,” Harbaugh said. “And that has to be coached, too. If that’s not getting done, if we’re missing a detail by one position and a mistake pops up at another position on the next play, if there’s always one guy, that’s coaching and focusing by the players to make sure they’re doing their job.
“Gotta make sure it’s done and it’s done right. As a week of practice goes on, if it’s not done right, we’ve gotta do it right."
Rutgers at Michigan
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Records: No. 20 Michigan 2-1 (0-1 Big Ten), Rutgers 1-2 (0-1)
Line: Michigan by 27.5