Football The Rivalry

In Defining Moment, Jim Harbaugh Folds Again

Ohio State vs. Michigan

Jim Harbaugh’s arrival in Ann Arbor in 2015 was greeted as the dawning of a new era.

A Michigan Man who learned at Bo Schembechler’s right hand and then turned into a Super Bowl coach, Harbaugh was touted as the perfect fit for the Wolverines’ program.

He came preaching the kind of ball-control offense and hard-hitting defenses that brought Schembechler so many wins.

After suffering a humiliating 62-39 loss at Ohio State in 2018, Harbaugh seemingly took steps to stop living in the past.

He brought in new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis to install a new attack based on “speed in space.”

That’s a concept that’s been popular among the nation’s best programs for more than a decade, but which was greeted as a revolutionary idea in Ann Arbor.

Saturday, Harbaugh had a chance to make a statement and change the national perception of his program.

Yes, he had wins over rivals Notre Dame and Michigan State this fall, but Harbaugh’s Michigan won’t ever become what Wolverine fans expected until he can beat Ohio State.

For most of the first half, Gattis’ high-flying attack was doing its part to make it happen. They won the toss, chose to receive the opening kickoff, and then marched right down the field to score a touchdown.

They added another late in the first quarter, and were down just 21-13 when the Michigan defense forced an OSU punt with about four minutes left before halftime.

That’s when the roof fell in, just like it always seems to.

The Buckeyes punted it away on 4th-and-4 from their own 43, but senior Khaleke Hudson jumped offsides to gift OSU a first down.

Ohio State made the most of it, with Justin Fields hitting a 47-yard bomb to Garrett Wilson down to the Michigan 5.

J.K. Dobbins raced into the end zone on the next play. Just like that, Michigan went from getting the ball back with a chance to tie the game to trailing by 15 points.

With the Buckeyes set to receive the second-half kickoff, it was very clearly going to be a defining moment for Harbaugh and his offense.

This isn’t ret-conning, either. It was very apparent at the time.

How did Harbaugh respond?

The Michigan offense raced right down the field to the OSU 5. An incomplete pass, rush for no gain, and incomplete pass left him facing 4th-and-goal at the 5.

At this point, Michigan QB Shea Patterson had been close to perfect. Even after the pair of incomplete passes, he was 14-for-19 for 250 yards.

Michigan trailed by two scores, at 28-13. A field goal would still leave them two scores behind.

With a hot senior quarterback in his huddle, the home crowd behind him, and the OSU defense sucking win on the other side of the field, Harbaugh turtled.

He sent out the kicking team to make it 28-16.

After halftime, he had a chance to try to steal a possession with an onside kick. He didn’t do it.

The Buckeyes went right down the field to make it 35-16.

After a Michigan punt, Ohio State added a nine-play, 84-yard drive to make it 42-16.

Michigan went three-and-out, but got a gift as Wilson muffed a punt, giving them the ball at the OSU 26.

Three plays later, and facing 4th-and-11, Harbaugh sent out the field goal team again.

At this point, his team was down 26 points and his defense had given up touchdowns on six of the Buckeyes’ seven possessions (excluding a kneel-down at halftime).

Field goals were basically worthless. He needed touchdowns.

But Harbaugh settled for three again. By coaching not to lose, he lost yet again.

Five years into his tenure, he just made history by becoming the first coach for either program to go 0-5 in The Game.

He has never even made it to the Big Ten Championship Game, let alone won it.

His Michigan teams have lost at least three games every season he’s been in charge.

Saturday, when the moment got big, Harbaugh and his team played smaller than ever.

The rest of the game played out according to a now-familiar script. The Buckeyes wore out the Michigan defense, grinding Don Brown’s highly-touted unit to a nub.

They controlled the line on both sides of the ball.

And as the clock wound down, and Michigan fans made their way to the exits, O-H-I-O cheers echoed around Michigan Stadium.

The Wolverines’ only defense was to have their marching band play an arrangement of Aretha Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” to try to drown out the joyous Buckeye fans.

But at this point, Harbaugh and his program clearly don’t deserve that respect.

After the game, a reporter asked him, “Is it a talent gap? Is it a preparation gap? Is it a coaching gap? What is the biggest difference between you and Ohio State at this point?”

Harbaugh responded, “I’ll answer your questions, not your insults.”

When the reporter followed up to ask what the difference was, Harbaugh said, “They played better today.”

It’s starting to become apparent that Harbaugh simply has no answers.

In just five games, Harbaugh has now suffered three of the 10 most lopsided defeats the Wolverines have ever had against the Buckeyes.

His defensive coordinator, Don Brown, popped off about the Buckeyes earlier in November, saying, “They better be careful now because we’re hitting our stride too. This is a two-way street, and I know our guys will be ready in three weeks.”

There was a lot of talk about how the Wolverines had put a renewed focus on The Game, and OSU entered with a first-year head coach and a first-year starter at quarterback. It seemed like Michigan might finally be in position to break their long losing streak in The Game.

But the moment Brown’s defense stepped off the curb into that two-way street, they got flattened by a scarlet-and-gray 18-wheeler. Again.

And as soon as Harbaugh had a chance to coach to win, he curled up into the fetal position. Again.

At this point, Harbaugh is who he is. And Michigan is what it is.

The Block-M might as well stand for “meh.”

For all Harbaugh’s bluster about how “nobody” has it better than them, Michigan has been an exceedingly unremarkable team for basically his entire tenure.

They will once again finish with less than 11 wins, a mark they’ve hit just three times since Harbaugh was a player in 1986. They will once again miss out on the Big Ten Championship Game, somewhere they’ve never been.

And they will once again watch the gap between them and Ohio State grow, instead of shrink. This was a big recruiting weekend for the Wolverines, which means dozens of the top high school players from the midwest and across the nation just watched Michigan get humiliated in their own stadium.

Eight years into the longest winning streak Ohio State has ever put together against the Wolverines, things are seemingly getting worse in Ann Arbor.

The most shocking part of this all is how Michigan fans and administrators seem to have basically accepted the status quo.

Michigan has been utterly non-competitive with its biggest rival, and the Wolverines are seemingly at peace with that.

When John Cooper was 0-4 in The Game, he needed a tie to save his job. Harbaugh just went 0-5 with back-to-back 23-and-29-point losses and the response in Ann Arbor is basically a shrug.

Ohio State has now won 15 of the last 16 games between the two rivals. Thanks to Saturday’s win, the Buckeyes, not the Wolverines, are now the winningest major-conference FBS program by winning percentage.

Michigan hasn’t been a consistent national power since the 1970s, and seems to be sliding further away from that level now, instead of getting closer.

Saturday’s game showed that Harbaugh and Michigan football really are a perfect fit for each other: Top-tier names, third-tier performers.

35 Responses

  1. “Getting” is neither leading nor relational learning.

    We always ‘get’ players for every position.

    The question remains for each player, team, season… what exactly is this “standard” you are going to commit to this season?

    for ‘what’ you play is observable, evident. WHY you play is each person’s individual choice, and essential to the team “how are we going to fit together this time?”

    GO BUCKS!

  2. what’s far better than denigrating scum and lording it all over their attitudes and plans and plays that just won’t work?

    A: recognizing when we have said or done the very same thing.

    for scum did it and ‘that’s why they lost’ we say….

    what ‘happened’ to us when we did the same thing… might be useful in our getting better TODAY.

    Coach Day set a classic example when listening to how scum was going to get us this time last week sometime.

    Eyes directly as the [sooth] sayer… lips closed. Turned to the next questioner.

    Somehow, on the inside, i doubt Coach Day was ‘feeling insulted’…. ;-{)}

  3. I’m not sure Michigan is worse now than it ever was. The issue now is from Jim Tressel on, Ohio State has gotten better. Meyer addressed Tressel’s conservative nature. Ryan is addressing Meyers tendency to go to trick plays that fail in tight situations, yet he is less conservative than Tressel.

    What we’re seeing is an upward trend in refining coaching. But also a break away from a team of mostly Ohio players to more national recruiting, the biggest part of that being Meyer’s ability to recruit top tier quarterbacks towards the end of his tenure, even if he favoured that “never be a pro” J.T. Barret over (certain to be pro) Joe Burrow. The missing piece at Ohio State was always the second level quarterbacks.

    In Haskens and Fields they have truly broken the Ohio State rep for not being able to develop pro quality quarterbacks. Day , with his NFL experience is responsible for that. And going into the future, that will be the biggest difference. Haskens has proved you can leave Ohio State after 3 years and be starting in the pros the next year.

    That may be the biggest effect going forward in tOSU football. Linemen O and D, linebackers DBs, have been going to the pros from Ohio State for years. That was never the issue, The issue was the most important position on the field. And finally, after my 60 years of watching Ohio State football, we are actually getting pro prospect quarterbacks. It should lead to great things.

    1. “Getting” is neither leading nor relational learning.

      We always ‘get’ players for every position.

      The question remains for each player, team, season… what exactly is this “standard” you are going to commit to this season?

      for ‘what’ you play is observable, evident. WHY you play is each person’s individual choice, and essential to the team “how are we going to fit together this time?”

      GO BUCKS!

  4. Yeah remember back in August when mi was picked to win the east division because we had a new coach and QB? Well they forgot to look at how deep our roster was compared to mi and what they lost on the defensive side. That talent gap is getting wider. Look for some recruits to changed their minds and not go to mi or transfer after the beating they saw in AA yesterday.

  5. The last decent turn coach was Moeller. They have been on a long slow side since then. Their 97 title was before playoff games. This article is spot on. How far they have fallen.

  6. Great article. It seems to me that we (Buckeye Nation) are happy to be a part of what has been billed as the greatest rivalry in all of sports (at least College Football). We tend to sneer at those who suggest otherwise. I really could care less if its the greatest rivalry in all of sports – it is our rivalry. I say that as a prelude to my thought on the state of the rivalry. Do I want to win it year in and year out – hell yeah. However, I’m always a little more intense when we play Penn State – that team seems to play like a rival every year. I love these 20+ point wins against TTUN, but I absolutely stayed so much more engaged when we have played Penn State the last 4+ years. Those kids want to be the big boys of the B1G – TTUN just wants to be be a link to a past that has not been so glorious. I think the underlying thought in your article is saying the same thing – put up a damn fight and play/coach like you want to be the big boys of the B1G and most importantly that you want to beat the stuffing out of your rival – ’cause we’re not going to play down to you and we are not going to your pity party.

  7. Somebody sounds like they need a nappy. Awww big bad sportswriter laughing @ a boastful coach. Meanwhile OSU just quietly goes about its business winning. I’m sure these millionaire coaches slept like babies last night.

  8. TSUN was convinced that all they needed was a “Xichigan Xan” to lead their team back to glory, and they got one. The thing is though, instead of Bo, they got Lloyd Lite. Get used to the 9-3 seasons boys. because you’re not getting Urban or Dabo. Booger is as good as you’ll ever get.

    Go Bucks! Beat Badgers!

  9. Goofy and childish article. Lets just celebrate and relive OSU and what we accomplished, sprinkled in with subtle jabs at Harbaugh and Michigan. I say this knowing very well I am the adult in the room as far as this site and OSU football r concerned but this article couldn’t interest me less right now. In 3-4 days maybe but right now just a bad look.

    1. Disappointed your team got whacked yesterday, Gym Shorts? If you truly don’t understand the impetus behind the article- and at this point who knows or cares- just pull your own fan card and take up another interest. Those turds deserve all the rubbing it in type of verbiage all OSU fans can muster. Sheesh, go to a UM blog and groan over there.

      1. He said “turds”….LOL!!!! You are the gift that keeps on giving. I really want to quit responding to you but you’re inability to ignore a simple, benign comment keeps me coming back. I guess that I hope deep down that these comments would somehow inspire you to gain a little insight and in turn lead to some self improvement. Unfortunately, 12 yr olds aren’t big on self reflection.

        1. No you don’t want to quit responding, Gym. You are a UM troll who tries to slide in anti OSU sentiment, and you get angry when you are exposed. In all seriousness, GO ELSEWHERE- you are worse than useless. Time to hide the Charles Woodson jersey for another year, eh? Salty tears are the best!

    2. Time to change “Hail to the Victors” to “We’re ok With Losing”.

    3. So in your opinion, the time for reflection on the current state of the Ohio State/Michigan rivalry is on the Wednesday or Thursday of Big Ten Championship Game week?

      Because I’ve gotta say, I think people might be thinking more about the Big Ten Championship Game at that point, and wondering why anyone was still talking about a game that happened several days earlier.

      1. Just giving my thoughts on this article first thing on the morning after. The article is fine because it caters to the endless chuckleheads that frequent this site. Chuckleheads? Like who you may ask. Thanks for asking. Chuckleheads like Longtime(numbskull) Fan. He likes to use clever, third grade nicknames for teams and players etc. I guess I am just a little more evolved than average inhabitant of the Ozone. As for when is the right time for this article…probably any time other than the first thing Sunday morning. It just struck me as childish so I expressed my thoughts. I realize I am in the minority. I can hear Longtime Numbskull giggling as he read the article as many 12 yr olds would. I’ve more than moved on.

        1. Stay on the porch there Jimmy…….it is painfully obvious that you and your totally inept football team cannot run with the big dogs. In any way shape or form. Happy Sunday Jimmy boy.

        2. And yet, here you are reading the article and commenting on it. Methinks the chucklehead doth protest too much.

          1. I couldn’t agree more. Why does He/She/It even come here if he doesn’t like the poster or the writers. This person has major mental problems that he should be addressing instead of coming in here and trying to get people to think he is actually the only intellect and adult in here. What a joke!

        3. Gym shorts love to rub against men’s sweaty genitals so your name is probably perfect, you effeminate little chucklehead. Stop pretending to be grown up or anything more than a slightly below average cretin with Michigan tendencies.

      2. The reality is that the national media was in a week long love affair with the ttun. This game in some ways a confirmation that MI is no longer elite nor a top tier B1G school.

      3. Here’s the thing, Tom, I do somewhat agree with Norman Head’s earlier take. Michigan HAS greatly improved under Harbaugh. There was a ton of damage done by both Brady Hoke and Rich Rod, and they have never fully recovered from the recruiting hit nor the gains OSU made in that same span. Now it’s just a case of the tail wagging the dog; we keep getting better, we keep getting national attention, we keep getting those top-notch recruits. But, Michigan is back to winning 9-10 games a year; they just aren’t beating us like Moeller an Carr did, and they still aren’t recruiting as well.

        Another thing i disagreed with from your article was the part about Michigan kicking that first FG when down by 2 scores… as much as you or I would like to think we know about the game of football, neither of us is paid to coach the game, and this is one of those circumstances where that actually becomes obvious; their QB WAS hot at the time, but mind you that was with an open field and room/time for the good-as-advertised Wolverine WR’s to get open and against an OSU defense playing on it’s heels. You lose every one of those advantages down inside the Red Zone, let alone inside the 5. OSU went man, there’s less room for the receivers to run free, find soft spots etc, and less time to wait those receivers open. IMO the best choice Harbaugh made was kicking that FG. There was still an entire half left to play, yes, they would still be down 2 scores, but 3 points is better than none.

        The 2nd FG was stupid, i agree. He was basically giving up at that point.

        I think what Norman and this Jim Shorts guy are getting at is we gotta be careful we don’t become these db Michigan fans from the 90’s that we hate so much, who always rubbed in our face every victory over our beloved Buckeyes.
        We gotta accept that Michigan is the new Notre Lame, except they’re at least making the effort to repair all the damage done while still over-exaggerating just how “dominant” their program really was over the the previous couple decades. Notre Lame is just living off the exhaust fumes from the Lou Holtz era, and if they hadn’t remained independent, wouldn’t even be getting the special treatment from the rankings services or Playoff Subcommittee. Michigan unfortunately din’t even have the same pedigree as Notre Dame, but I would still take Booger over Charlie Weiss, Brian Kelly, maybe even Ty Winningham, any day.

    4. Jim, are you married to a mi fan or work with someone who roots for them? Wait until the national media rips into Harbaugh. It won’t be pretty. Their fans are already doing it at mgoblog since last year.

      1. Hate Michigan….hate Harbaugh. U people r clueless. Never mind.

    5. I’m not sure what your angle is here and whether or not you are a Buckeye fan for a fan of TTUN. However, you are complaining about an article on a site dedicate to Ohio State sports, about a game that was played hours prior to the article release.

      You do realize, this is what the O-Zone does, don’t you?

      They are not here to cater to your sensibilities. They are here to generate traffic to their site by writing articles that attract their audience. And this article, about the game just played by the local team, addresses a topic that is relevant to the game just played. What is it that you would have to do differently?

  10. for how arrogant and pompous this school, team, and fans are off the field they sure get their butts kicked hard by the Buckeyes!

  11. After living through the John Cooper years, I still can’t bring myself to feel sorry for those dudes.

    1. I’m with you, my friend, Sweet, sweet schadenfreude. GO BUCKS!!

  12. Xichigan Men say things like “revenge Tour” and “They better be careful”, but the result is the same. They talk the talk but they can’t walk the walk. Can’t figure out why TTUN wants to give boatloads of money to this sub-par coach.

    1. I’m happy to let TTUN continue to pay him as long as they want. Go Bucks

  13. If my fevered dreams come true; Michigan will keep Jim Harbaugh around as the coach.
    As an Ohio State fan, I sleep so much better with Jim Harbaugh is the coach at Michigan.
    Some might think that a moving truck will be parked around the corner from Jim Harbaugh’s house.
    If his Wife is bold, she might tell them boys to back that truck up to the front door while he and his team are out BOWLING this holiday season.
    She might text him and tell him, “For the dignity of our children; meet me at this address in a different state! “

  14. If my fevered dreams come true; Michigan will play Appalachia State on a neutral field.
    Some might think that a moving truck will be parked around the corner from Jim Harbaugh’s house.
    If his Wife is bold, she might tell them boys to back that truck up to the front door. She might text him and tell him, “For the dignity of our children; meet me at this address in a different state! “

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