Three offensive players have spoken to the media since Michigan’s loss to Michigan State. All three were asked about the team’s preparation, and none of their answers gave any indication that it was lacking.
“Everything they did, actually, was on film,” fifth-year senior tight end Nick Eubanks said Monday.
“We stuck to our game plan, they didn’t do anything different,” junior quarterback Joe Milton said after the game.
“It’s just the small details,” junior running back Hassan Haskins added.
But the man in charge of the offense felt differently.
“I did not think that our preparation was up to par, up to the standard that we need it to be, and that falls on me,” offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said on the Stoney & Jansen show on 97.1 The Ticket Monday. “That’s my job as the coordinator to make sure that we’re getting the very best out of our young men. We’re demanding the very best and I have to do the best job to put them in positions to be successful.”
According to Gattis, one of the Wolverines’ main issues against the Spartans was that the offense is full of young and inexperienced players who weren’t able to prepare for Michigan State in four days the same way they were able to prepare for Minnesota in three weeks.
But this is a season in which the Wolverines are slated to play seven more games in seven weeks. They won’t have the luxury of extra prep time again.
It’s on Gattis to figure out how he can get his team ready for Indiana on Saturday more effectively — and to do so quickly.
Though Gattis specifically mentioned the struggles of the first-time starters, there’s plenty of blame to go around. True freshman wide receiver Roman Wilson led the team in both receiving yards and yards per reception (among players with two or more catches) for the game. Milton, in his third year with the program, didn’t immediately know who Michigan State linebacker Antjuan Simmons was. Sophomore running back Zach Charbonnet, one of the few returning offensive starters, finished with just three yards on five attempts.
And regardless of preparation, Gattis’s play calls at times showed a lack of situational awareness. Down 14-7 in the second quarter, facing second-and-5 from the 6-yard line, Gattis could’ve gone to one of the plays that worked so well against Minnesota — a bubble-screen or a quick slant or a designed quarterback run. But he didn’t. Instead, he brought out Haskins to run the wildcat, then did it again on third down. The first play, a direct-snap rush, gained only one yard. The second, a halfback option by Haskins, was broken up in the end zone. A promising drive ended with a field goal.
“Obviously in any type of situations as a play-caller, any time you use some type of trick play or whatever it may be, it’s genius when it works, it’s dumb of you when it doesn’t,” Gattis said. “Obviously the play was open, there’s no blame to go there. That’s on me. That’s a critical call in a critical situation and I accept the results. Had it worked it would have been a brilliant play call. It didn’t work so it’s a dumb playcall.”
Though Gattis is somewhat correct that the perception of trick plays depends heavily on the outcome, Michigan could’ve taken momentum back with a touchdown there, and it’s hard to believe there wasn’t a play Gattis could’ve called that had a higher probability of success — especially since the Spartans called a timeout when the Wolverines originally showed wildcat. Despite that, Michigan stuck with the formation two more times.
Then, down by 10 with five minutes left, Gattis’s offense managed the clock poorly, going down the field with short passes where the receivers frequently failed to get out of bounds. Though the drive eventually resulted in a touchdown, it ran four and a half minutes off the clock.
Jim Harbaugh indicated in his Monday press conference that the Wolverines weren’t calling downfield shots because those throws weren’t open and because the vertical passing game wasn’t working. He wasn’t wrong on either of those points, but at the very least Gattis could’ve called plays that got his receivers in better position to run out of bounds — or kicked a field goal as soon as the offense was in range to save time for a potential touchdown drive after an onside kick.
After the loss, the Wolverines all echoed a similar sentiment — they needed to get back to the film room and see what went wrong so they can bounce back next week. But Indiana is a better team than Michigan State, and if Michigan wants to have any hope of winning, it will need to fix its preparation first and foremost.