Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh stood at the podium in Schembechler Hall a week ago, speaking about why his team’s trip to Wisconsin would be a “big challenge.”
Following an underwhelming first two performances, the Wolverines lucked into a bye week prior to their matchup with the Badgers. Despite the extra week to prepare, they still found themselves on the wrong side of a blowout to open their Big Ten slate.
Michigan (2-1 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) failed the challenge Harbaugh talked about, to say the least. A week later, Harbaugh stood at the same podium to shoulder the blame for the Wolverines’ shortcomings.
“We were out-hustled, I take responsibility for that,” Harbaugh said. “In any ways that we were out-schemed, I also take responsibility for that. That’s my job, to make sure that we’re completely sound in all offenses, defenses — everything we’re running. How I manage the team and get them to play hard, play tough.
“ … We saw it, you saw it. The entire football world saw it. It’s not acceptable.”
Michigan’s once-feared defense surrendered nearly 500 yards of total offense, over 200 of which came on the ground against Badgers’ star running back Jonathan Taylor. The Heisman candidate’s role in Wisconsin’s offense is no secret, and the Wolverines saw a heavy dose of him in last season’s matchup. Senior safety Josh Metellus emphasized gang tackling during the week, but Taylor was still able to escape for multiple long runs — most notably a 72-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter.
Through three games, Don Brown’s defense is barely a top-50 unit nationally in total defense (47th). Following the departures of Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich, the defensive line’s inability to stop the run has been exposed. Michigan is allowing over 200 rushing yards per game — good for an underwhelming rank of 114th in the country.
The offense hasn’t been much better under first-year coordinator Josh Gattis, whose system worked to near-perfection a season ago at Alabama. Despite returning a senior quarterback and a trio of NFL-caliber wide receivers, the Wolverines are averaging just 237 passing yards per game — 75th most in the country.
After an encouraging first two quarters of play against Middle Tennessee State in week one, Gattis’ Pro Spread scheme hasn’t delivered on its promise of up-tempo, vertical threats since. Michigan completed less than half of its passing attempts against Wisconsin’s secondary despite holding sizable athletic advantages.
“I believe in our coaches,” Harbaugh said. “I believe in our players, and the ways that we haven’t been successful in this past game, it was thorough. It was a lot. I know our coaches are determined. They aren’t accepting it. … Determined to get it fixed is where we’re at right now. I could go into all the details, but every single detail is saved for our team. We’ll talk about it. (We) already have as a coaching staff, what our plans are and what ways we’re determined to see the improvement.”
Saturday’s blowout is the latest shortcoming in a season that’s already seen Michigan tumble 13 spots in the national poll. As for what went wrong specifically against the Badgers, Harbaugh didn’t sugarcoat it.
“That was a bad day,” Harbaugh said. “That was not a banner day for Michigan.”