Jamie Samuelsen, co-host of the “Jamie and Stoney” show at 6 a.m. weekdays on WXYT-FM (97.1), blogs for freep.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Detroit Free Press nor its writers. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jamiesamuelsen.
Did Saturday’s blowout loss render everything else that Michigan football did this season useless?
Saturday’s game was such an extreme blowout that it has unleashed a series of extremes about the Michigan team that are far too, you know, extreme.
Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh is not on the hot seat. The season as a whole is not a failure. Shea Patterson is not a bad quarterback. The defense is not horrendous even though they clearly were overrated heading into that game. It was a devastating loss that was a brutal end to the regular season. But Michigan still has a chance to end the year playing in the Rose Bowl, and it’s hard to call any season that ends in Pasadena “worthless.”
But extremes can often lead to overreactions. Grady Little managed the Boston Red Sox to a 5-2 lead in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the hated New York Yankees. But he stuck with Pedro Martinez too long, the Yanks came back and won in extra innings, and a season later Terry Francona was the manager as the Red Sox won their first title in nearly a century.
Losing 62-39 to Ohio State isn’t exactly blowing Game 7 of the ALCS. And Jim Harbaugh isn’t Grady Little, so don’t expect a change at the top.
But Michigan also can’t underreact to what happened Saturday. The basis on which the Wolverine program is built — great defense and strong, forceful, conservative offense — isn’t working well enough. It’s working against lesser teams like Northwestern and Penn State. But when you want to beat the best, you have to be the best. And right now, Michigan isn’t capable of doing that.
When you allow 62 points in a game, the natural reaction is to dismantle the defense. I don’t think Don Brown, who has an excellent reputation as a defensive coordinator, forgot how to coach overnight. I just think this defense was prepared for running teams with average quarterbacks — in other words, every other team in the conference. The defense was not prepared for a quarterback like Dwayne Haskins nor an offense imagined by Urban Meyer.
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The defense needs to be better than it was Saturday, and it will have to do so without standouts Devin Bush, Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary, who all figure to be playing in the NFL next season. But the defense philosophy works even if the end results were ugly.
The offense? That’s where we have a problem and the magnitude of the problem all depends on how willing Harbaugh is to change his ways.
Harbaugh has been playing and winning for most of his life by using a certain brand of offensive football. It’s conservative. It’s run-based. It’s smart. It’s sound. And for most of his 50-plus years, it has produced wins — lots of them. It did so at Michigan, in the NFL with the Bears and the Colts and in his coaching career with Stanford, the 49ers and now Michigan. You can understand why a man would be so reluctant to change something that has worked so well. Harbaugh even spoke last week of how much Bo Schembechler would like this team because it uses a fullback.
I admire loyalty. And in this instance, I admire stubbornness.
But that only gets you so far. And it doesn’t get you past Ohio State. I don’t buy the notion that Harbaugh can’t beat Urban Meyer. Other coaches have beaten Meyer. But isn’t it clear after four seasons that Michigan, as it currently plays, won’t be good enough to beat Meyer more than once every so often. If Harbaugh puts up a John Cooper-like record against the Buckeyes, is that good enough for Michigan fans? Of course it’s not, and it shouldn’t be. Ohio State has owned this rivalry since the turn of the century and the mere presence of Harbaugh in Ann Arbor hasn’t been enough to change it.
So now he needs to change, which may be the hardest change of all. I don’t know who is in Harbaugh’s inner football circle. I assume his father Jack and brother John hold prominent roles. Warde Manuel is his boss, but most athletic directors allow their highest paid employees to run their program as they see fit.
Last season, Harbaugh knew he needed change so he dismissed Tim Drevno, and added Ed Warriner and Jim McElwain to the offensive coaching staff. There is still no actual offensive coordinator. Pep Hamilton calls the pass plays, Warriner calls the runs and Harbaugh has veto power. I’d love to see Harbaugh identify a young, dynamic offensive mind (Kliff Kingsbury?) and hand the offensive reins over to him. The head coach still has the ultimate say on what is called on the field, but a true OC can script a gameplan and use one play to set up another.
I don’t know if Harbaugh sees a problem or not, and that is part of the problem. He said after the loss Saturday they would work to make sure that something like that never happens again. But unless he tweaks how he runs a college offense, games like Saturday’s will happen again. It may not be to the tune of 62-39, but at this point, all of these losses to Ohio State are just running together and Michigan appears powerless to change it.
Harbaugh is not on a hot seat in the classic sense. Michigan is 10-2 and has won at least 10 in three of Harbaugh’s four seasons. But the concern is growing. Harbaugh has been very good, but he hasn’t been as good as expected. Even he would admit that. In order to be better, he needs to be different. If he isn’t, the results won’t be different either.
Free Press writers react to Michigan’s debacle against Ohio State, 62-39, discussing every angle from Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 24, 2018.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep