At times when Josh Gattis spoke on Wednesday, it seemed his every other word was “adversity.” Over 22 minutes, he used the word nearly 15 times. During one 25-second stretch, he used it four times.
It was when he got asked if there were any surprises over his first three weeks.
And when you come in the way Gattis did as Michigan’s offensive coordinator and perform the way he has — overpromising and underdelivering through three grueling weeks of offensive football — what else is there to do besides fall back on the language of cliches and overcoming challenges?
“We ran what we wanted to run,” Gattis said. “The thing is, we just didn’t capitalize on the plays that we had in front of us.”
This comes just a couple days after multiple offensive players brought up questions about identity, saying they were uncomfortable throwing the ball as many times as Michigan did on Saturday. A large portion of that likely isn’t what Gattis had planned — once the Badgers got out to a big lead, there was little choice but throw the ball — but it’s still hard to comport that statement from Gattis with what Jon Runyan Jr. said on Monday.
“Once you get knocked back on our heels like that during the game, we kinda have to stray away from (the plan),” Runyan said. “… We were throwing the ball 42 times that game, which is something I haven’t seen at Michigan since I’ve been here.”
While the rest of the Wolverines are in the midst of an existential crisis post-Saturday’s 35-14 drubbing at the hands of Wisconsin, Gattis tried to convey some semblance of confidence. He took responsibility for the issues, but like he did after a disappointing performance against Army, he pointed to turnovers as the biggest part of the problem. He said Michigan left plays on the field. He stressed consistency.
He’s not wrong in any of that. The conversation surrounding Michigan right now would be drastically different if it hadn’t turned the ball over nine times in three games. Things would be a lot better if the Wolverines executed in games the same way they purport to do so in practice. Consistency folds into all of that — and so do injuries, as Gattis said his unit has yet to practice with all 11 starters.
But the questions outside the building have turned to the viability of the system itself. Senior quarterback Shea Patterson is averaging 7.0 yards per attempt, down a full yard from last season. The offensive line has struggled to open up holes in the run game. Junior receiver Nico Collins, who seemed destined to take a leap, has eight catches — most of little consequence — through three games, and has rarely been involved.
When Michigan reached third down on its first drive of the fourth quarter on Saturday, Collins ran straight past his man, into open space. Instead of hitting the open man downfield, Patterson threw to Ronnie Bell in double coverage, just short of the sticks. Collins threw his hands as the ball fell incomplete.
“I don’t think you can look out there and say one person was frustrated,” Gattis said. “I think all together, including myself, offensively, we were frustrated.”
Still, that doesn’t change what everyone can see. The receiving group as a whole — which figured to be a massive strength with Collins, Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones, who returned from injury Saturday — has underwhelmed.
“We’re not where we need to be in that room,” Gattis said. “That falls on me.”
Doubtless, that wasn’t what Gattis envisioned himself saying to a room of reporters about his most talented position group a few days before a game against Rutgers that should be chalked up as an automatic win.
On Monday, Gattis put together tape of 100 plays — all the negative plays Michigan has had — and watched it with the players. Then he showed them how those plays would look when they worked.
But practice and film rooms, as Gattis has found out the hard way, is different from games.
And regardless of where that disparity comes from, it’s his to fix.