“Improvement week” came and went for Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan football team.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Wolverines feel like they need another one.
But there aren’t any more bye weeks on the schedule. The Wolverines will have to play Indiana this weekend, and progress will have to be made regardless.
Michigan, quite simply, has some soul-searching to do on offense after an abysmal performance Saturday in a 14-10 loss to Michigan State.
Fifth-year senior center Patrick Kugler summed up the state of the team pretty well on Monday afternoon — it’s go time for the Wolverines.
“There can’t be any more errors now,” Kugler said. “We’ve got to win out now, plain and simple.”
Kugler was a starting member of a unit that had easily its worst outing of the season against the Spartans. Michigan gained just 300 total yards of offense, converted 5-of-17 third downs, averaged 2.6 yards per rush, completed 5.7 yards per passing attempt — and most glaringly, turned the ball over five times.
“We played a sloppy game,” Kugler said. “Everyone can see that.”
The issues with the offense read like a laundry list. Kugler didn’t agree that the sloppiness was a recurring issue — but through five games, it certainly seems like that may be the case.
The Wolverines currently rank 97th in total offense, 83rd in passing offense, 75th in rushing offense, 105th in offensive efficiency and are tied for 110th in turnover margin.
“We’ve just got to play better as a whole,” Kugler said. “Little things we’ve got to improve on. No turnovers, we’ve got to eliminate turnovers. That’s our main thing. But it’s a collective effort and as a group, we’ve got to play better.”
As Kugler alluded to, there were many different components of the offense that struggled against Michigan State.
Fifth-year senior John O’Korn started in place for an injured Wilton Speight and struggled, completing just 16-of-35 passes for 198 yards with three interceptions. According to Harbaugh, he’ll remain the starter going forward, and Kugler reiterated his trust in O’Korn.
“He’s our quarterback,” Kugler said. “You’ve got to have 100 percent (confidence) in your quarterback, and I know he’s going to play better next game.”
One position the Wolverines did change was right tackle. Midway through the game, the coaching staff replaced redshirt sophomore Nolan Ulizio with redshirt junior Juwann Bushell-Beatty. Harbaugh wouldn’t confirm whether Bushell-Beatty has taken over the starting job going forward.
Meanwhile, Michigan’s play calling — especially in the second half, as it rained heavily — came under criticism. Just when it seemed the Wolverines had finally grasped momentum, three consecutive possessions ended with interceptions.
Harbaugh was defensive when asked about the staff’s calls, which he confirmed he has the final say over. And like at right tackle, it remains unknown whether any major changes will occur schematically.
“I want to look at the film, I want to learn from it,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not gonna get into questioning the play-calling.
“It’s a very convenient thing, right? Play worked and, ‘Hey, it was a great play,’ because it worked. Play doesn’t work, ‘Would you wish you had done something else, had a different play call?’ Sure, that’s very easy to do. Hindsight is 20/20.”
A complete overhaul of the offense may not be realistic at this point in the season. And if Harbaugh and Kugler’s comments on Monday are taken at face value, sweeping changes don’t appear to be on the way.
Of course, the platitudes and curt responses could be hiding something else.
Canned answers aside, one thing is for sure. Michigan knows it has to improve, and improve fast.
“Everyone’s just got to sack up,” Kugler said. “It’s time to go.”