The Wolverines went into Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday to receive their judgment.
We were going to find out if Michigan actually was a Big Ten contender, or were they once again overhyped and undermanned.
When the Wolverines took the field at high noon to plead their case, they soon found out that they were facing a hangin’ judge and the judge was in a bit of a sadistic mood.
Wisconsin went on to rush for 359 yards on 57 carries (6.3 ypc) as Michigan’ defense tried to profess its innocence. It was first time the Wolverines had allowed 300 yards rushing since the 2015 Ohio State game when the Buckeyes put 369 yards on them.
Badger running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 203 yards on 23 carries, scoring twice, including a 72-yarder that showed all of the worst of this Michigan defense. Taylor could have actually rushed for 200 yards in the first quarter alone had Paul Chryst not started throwing the ball for some reason.
Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan was efficient through the air and productive on the ground. He completed 13-of-16 passes for 128 yards and rushed for two touchdowns, including a 25-yard scoring scramble through the middle of a vacated defense.
This Wisconsin offense was everything Jim Harbaugh wanted Michigan football to be but could never make happen.
The Badgers lined up offensive linemen in the backfield, for crying out loud.
“Speed in space?” Wisconsin’s “Girth on Earth” ran through Michigan like the Wolverines were only playing with two defensive linemen.
That’s not an exaggeration. There were times when Michigan’s defense actually played with just two defensive linemen. On third and short.
The Wolverine offense didn’t fare any better. There is officially now a quarterback controversy in Michigan — at least when Dylan McCaffrey has been cleared to resume human activity again after taking two shots to the head on the same drive.
The only redeeming aspect from this game is that there are no more mysteries here. The truth is out there and now we know it.
In the Michigan Monday following the Army game, I wrote this:
Michigan was very fortunate to get out of this game with a win, which is something that almost every championship team says at least once in a season.
If they don’t kick it up a few notches against Wisconsin in two weeks, however, this win won’t be one of those games that championship teams are remembered for. It will be one of those games where people first realized there was a very real problem.
I think that riddle has been solved and there are no easy fixes here.
There is one game left on Michigan’s schedule where the opponent will be doubting their chances to beat the Wolverines, and that’s this week against Rutgers. Everybody else is starting to grin.
What happens from here on out will be Jim Harbaugh’s legacy. Does the team scratch out seven wins? If so, this will likely be his last season at Michigan, and perhaps mutually.
Can they put their cleats in the ground and fight back for nine or 10 wins? At this point, everything would have to come together for that to happen, and under Jim Harbaugh nothing has ever come together when everything has had to come together.
I don’t know if eight wins saves him depending on what the four losses are and what they look like. And at this stage, what is the point. After five seasons, I think we’ve seen the limits of Jim Harbaugh’s abilities.
This isn’t a program that is getting better. This is a program that is getting thinner and grimmer.
Can he turn it around? Few things are impossible in college football, but this sure feels like one of them.
When Michigan Was On Offense
The Wolverines managed 299 yards of total offense, with just 40 of those yards coming via the ground.
The Badgers have the No. 1 rush defense in the nation, but this wasn’t entirely a Wisconsin thing. Michigan’s running game is an issue right now.
Running back depth was always going to be an issue this season. Any time you go into a season putting your hopes on a freshman like Zach Charbonnet, you’re likely going to regret it. That’s not a statement on Charbonnet, but rather the plan of attack.
Charbonnet was called upon to carry the ball 33 times against Army. Last week, rumors surfaced of a knee injury. Michigan shot those rumors down by starting Charbonnet, who ended up with two rushes for six yards and a reception for a loss of a yard.
Is he healthy? Would your leading rusher only carry the ball twice in a Big Ten game on the road?
Healthy or not, the reason he was out there was because there aren’t many other options. Fullback-turned-defensive-tackle-turned-tailback Ben Mason was given a carry inside the Wisconsin 10-yard line on Michigan’s first drive and he fumbled the ball away.
That’s where things stand with Michigan’s running back situation right now. Things are so bad they went to a defensive tackle.
Last year, I wrote here that every touch that Jim Harbaugh gave to a fullback was a win for the defense. I would also like to add that any offensive touch that goes to a defensive tackle is also a win for the defense. Is Christian Turner really that shaky with the ball that he can’t be trusted?
I wonder who will run the ball this week against Rutgers. It won’t matter, but it’s still a question.
The other item of note for the Michigan offense was the fact that Shea Patterson finally get benched. He would have stayed benched, but Dylan McCaffrey fell victim to the Malachi Crunch and he is doubtful for this week.
Patterson completed 14-of-32 passes for 219 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. McCaffrey went 3-of-8 for 40 yards and led the team with 21 yards rushing.
Patterson seems to have lost all of his confidence and rarely stepped strongly into his throws on Saturday. He was tossing up more fadeaways than Michael Jordan in his final year with the Wizards.
The offense didn’t really move until Patterson just started chucking the ball downfield, letting his receivers make plays on 50/50 balls.
It almost looks like Michigan’s offensive coordinator has never actually coordinated an offense before.
The scary thing here is that this offense needs its quarterbacks at their absolute best in order to move the ball, and I’m not sure how many times they’re actually going to achieve that this season.
When Michigan Was On Defense
There are so many things I’m not going to say here because I simply can’t remember all of it.
Let’s start with the defensive line. Michigan is going through some injuries right now, so they were missing a couple of guys. They ended up playing six scholarship defensive linemen in this game, and one is a former fullback and another is a graduate transfer from Central Michigan.
The fact that Jim Harbaugh only has four scholarship defensive lineman that he recruited who are good enough to play right now is absolutely negligent, which actually describes most of his recruiting.
Here’s a comparison for you — Ohio State was missing four defensive linemen this past week. They still played 10 other scholarship defensive lineman and also a walk-on.
If you don’t recruit quality and quantity on the defensive line, you are doing it wrong.
Michigan has no playmakers in this front seven, and I’m not sure they have playmakers anywhere.
I have a ton of respect for Don Brown because when his defense has talent, it can work. When he doesn’t have talent, however, he looks like a single parent trying to feed four kids and all he has in the kitchen is two cans of tuna and then also a third can of tuna.
Michigan’s defense had no shot in this game and neither did Don Brown.
That doesn’t mean he is blameless. I understand the Wolverines are thin up front, but supplementing the defensive line by putting two or three linebackers on the line of scrimmage against this Wisconsin running game just wasn’t smart. The Badger offensive line treated the linebackers like appetizers and went through the defensive line hungrier than ever.
Asking Jordan Glasgow — a former walk-on safety who is now an inside linebacker — to take on a Wisconsin guard in a short-yardage situation is completely unfair. He had no hope. Watching him try was like watching the good guy in the movies who gets wounded and then tells his friends to go on without him and then as they run off, they can hear him screaming while he empties his gun into whatever menace is tearing him apart.
Wisconsin repeatedly pushed him back like he was a plate of broccoli at a barbecue joint.
There were a number of times when those linebackers could have seen Jonathan Taylor running by them if they weren’t already being swallowed up by the Badger offensive line.
Last year, Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano had his linebackers up on the line of scrimmage in order to allow his defensive line to have one-on-one matchups. It led to the worst Ohio State defense in school history — and that was with a defensive line that was actually pretty damn good.
Michigan’s situation is a bit different. Their linebackers might be trying to help the defensive line simply because they desperately need it. They definitely need all the help they can get.
Which brings us back to Michigan running two defensive ends and four linebackers against Wisconsin in the red zone on third and three. It didn’t go well and I’m still perplexed by whatever the hell they were thinking.
The Special Teams
Would you like another sign of a bad offense? Will Hart punted five times, averaging 51 yards per punt and only put one of his punts inside the Wisconsin 20-yard line. In other words, Michigan couldn’t routinely move the ball close enough to midfield to reach the 20 with 50-yard punts. And as to why that matters, the Badgers scored touchdowns on the first four drives following those five punts. They missed a field goal on the fifth.
What Does It All Mean
It means that Michigan went into a game that they had no chance to win.
Players can say they weren’t prepared for Wisconsin, but it wouldn’t have mattered if they were prepared. They aren’t good enough or deep enough to stop that kind of running game.
Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting has been top heavy since he arrived and his ability to spot talent has been as disappointing as his ability to develop it.
In Harbaugh’s first full recruiting class (2016), he signed six Top 100 players. He also signed 10 players rated No. 491 or lower. Four of those players — Joshua Uche, Josh Metellus, Michael Dwumfour, and Devin Gil — have been major contributors to this defense the last two years.
In 2017, he signed six Top 100 players once again. Four of them were on defense. Only two remain — Luiji Vilain and Ambry Thomas, and only Thomas has ever been a contributor.
The 2017 defensive line class is either a case in terrible scouting or terrible development. Both might be an issue for Ohio State moving forward, given who Michigan’s defensive line coach was at the time.
But let’s look at this 2017 class to see how this 2019 defense got murdered.
Here are the 2017 defensive linemen signed and their respective national rank.
DT Aubrey Solomon (23rd) — Transferred out.
DE Luiji Vilain (57th) — Injured?
DT James Hudson (231st) — Moved to offensive line, transferred to Cincinnati.
DE Deron Irving-Bey (249th) — Not in the picture.
DE Corey Malone-Hatcher (268th) — Not in the picture.
DT Donovan Jeter (289th) — Plays, but should he?
DT Phillip Paea (459th) — On the team.
DE Kwity Paye (487th) — A starter, but not a productive one.
DT Ben Mason (817th) — Former fullback, plays, but should he?
There are no impact players on this Michigan defensive line. They are not being recruited and they are not being developed. They are simply out there because somebody has to be.
Freshmen Chris Hinton and Mazi Smith are both Top 100 players, which doesn’t actually bode well for Michigan based on recent history.
Sophomore Aidan Hutchinson may have the most potential, but he got pushed around like a mop on Saturday. In this analogy, the Michigan linebackers were the sawdust and the overall defensive performance was the vomit.
We can have this same conversation about the linebackers and defensive backs as well, if you want.
Jim Harbaugh’s talent evaluation has not been good enough for Michigan, nor has the player development. If he is going to fish for recruits outside of the top 500, he has to have more hits than misses, and he hasn’t come close to that. His misses on higher-rated players have only made matters worse.
It also means that Michigan looks like they have a completely joyless football program.
There were glimpses of this during their Amazon Prime show. Anybody can have a good time when things are going great, but how well does this team stick together when things aren’t going as planned?
How much will these guys fight for Jim Harbaugh? Has he endeared himself to his players enough to get more out of them than they think they can give?
That’s another thing — when he took this job, I fully expected him to get the most out of his players. After four years and change, you can probably count those players on two hands.
This is a program that may be ready for a change on all sides.
And it is clear at this point that change is needed.
The Road to The Game
Aug. 31 — Michigan 40 – Middle Tennessee 21 (1-0)
Sept. 7 — Michigan 24 – Army 21 (2-0)
Sept. 21 — Wisconsin 35 – Michigan 14 (2-1, 0-1)
Sept. 28 —Rutgers
Oct. 5 — Iowa
Oct. 12 — at Illinois
Oct. 19 — at Penn State
Oct. 26 — Notre Dame
Nov. 2 — at Maryland
Nov. 16 — Michigan State
Nov. 23 — at Indiana
Nov. 30 — Ohio State