You saw it, and so did Jim Harbaugh.
There’s no extra level of analysis needed, no added layers of expertise necessary. Michigan got rocked on Saturday.
Now it has to deal with the fallout.
“Watching the film it was pretty obvious to everybody that was watching in the entire football world, from A to Z, it wasn’t good,” Harbaugh said. “It wasn’t good enough. Not acceptable.”
It wasn’t one area that proved decisive in Wisconsin’s 35-14 win. It was all of them. Coaching. Physicality. Effort.
On Monday, Harbaugh stood at the podium with the demeanor of a man ready for introspection.
The scene bore all the makings of a normal press conference: Harbaugh standing there in a sweatshirt and khakis with his hands folded, speaking with as much of a filter as he can muster and giving short responses to injury questions. Rarely, though, has the Michigan coach been as direct as he was Monday afternoon.
He took responsibility, and so did the players. He said, repeatedly, that the performance wasn’t acceptable, and that it starts with him. He said the effort wasn’t there on Saturday, giving the requisite cliches about believing in his team, with the caveat that, in all areas, things must improve — no excuses and no way around it.
“We didn’t play physical enough,” Harbaugh said. “We were out-hustled. I take responsibility for that. In any ways that we were out-schemed, I take responsibility for that. It’s my job to make sure we are completely sound, in all offenses and defenses that we’re running.”
There are no shortage of areas to improve, but Harbaugh turned the focus to the trenches, on both sides of the ball. Wisconsin outran Michigan by a margin of over 300 yards on Saturday. The Badgers overwhelmed the Wolverines with size in the run game, breaking open holes for Jonathan Taylor. The subsequent scoring forced Michigan to throw the ball on offense. After the game and on Monday, offensive players talked about how jarring it was to have passed 42 times, “which is something I haven’t seen at Michigan since I’ve been here,” fifth-year senior tackle Jon Runyan Jr. said.
Strictly speaking, he’s incorrect. In 2015, Runyan’s freshman year, Michigan hit that mark three times and it did so in the 2018 Outback Bowl as well. But his answer speaks to something greater.
Despite Josh Gattis’ promises of a vertical passing game, this group still wants its identity to be rooted on the ground. On Saturday, it lost that.
“They took us out of our game that we wanted to play,” Runyan said. “That’s something we’re really not used to, with throwing that many times in a game.”
It doesn’t help that senior quarterback Shea Patterson seemed to be playing through an injury Saturday — Harbaugh said Saturday that he was evaluated at halftime — and was constantly dodging pressure, as Wisconsin racked up two sacks and seven hurries.
Patterson proved his mettle last year, when he threw for 2,600 yards and had as good a season as any Michigan quarterback has in the last decade. But against Wisconsin, he alternated between running for his life and looking lost.
“We have to do a better job of protecting the quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “Have to give him time to make throws, make reads. Do what he's capable of doing, he's a very good player.”
On Saturday, tight end Nick Eubanks said that the offense dwelled on their early errors, in particular Ben Mason’s fumble near the goal-line. Harbaugh didn’t reject the premise outright on Monday, but he refused to take it as an excuse.
If that bled into effort, it’s correctable, but also as indicting as anything Michigan did on Saturday.
“Effort’s something that can’t be coached it’s kind of a personal business decision you make,” Runyan said. “… Looking back on the film, not trying to call out anyone, but I feel like there were some plays where the effort could’ve been better.
“I think along with effort comes execution. Guys aren’t going to trot on the field being like, ‘I’m probably only going to give 60% of effort this play.’ No one’s thinking that. They were able to exploit those matchups and get to where they wanted to get.”
Acknowledging those errors is the first step. Now it’s on Harbaugh and Michigan to correct them.