These are uncertain times for the Michigan football team.
Saturday night, the now-unranked Wolverines suffered their worst loss since 2015 — another 42-13 blowout at the hands of then-No. 2 Ohio State — and they have faced a storm of backlash as a result.
Though they faced a wave of criticism after their first loss to Michigan State, this is the wave that could threaten to bring their sails crashing down.
In the high-stakes atmosphere of college football, one loss has the potential to poke holes in a resume. Two losses has the potential to sink a season.
But Monday, Michigan argued that its ship is still intact.
“With any team and fanbase, there’s going to be negative talk about it. That’s just the way it is,” said fifth-year senior fullback Henry Poggi. “Everyone wants perfection, and when that doesn’t happen, people start falling off the ship.
“We know that no one on our team can fall off the ship.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has taken it upon himself to steer the Wolverines in the right direction. After Saturday’s game, he told them about those fans who would hop off the bandwagon and express negative opinions about the state of the team.
He didn’t have to tell them. In the often-critical landscape of social media, Twitter and Instagram give those types of fans a platform to voice their complaints either directly or indirectly. College athletes, whose social media presence is typically monitored by the communications departments of their respective programs, have to learn how to deal with the hits without hitting back.
Junior wide receiver Grant Perry said he just keeps scrolling to bypass the negativity. Poggi said he just doesn’t follow people who engage in that kind of activity.
For a Michigan team dominated by underclassmen, it can be easy for the outside noise to seep through. The Wolverines’ veterans see it as their responsibility to turn down the dial.
“It’s a pretty bad loss,” Poggi said. “But the best thing about football during the season is that you have another game coming up to correct your wrongs. … The best way to put something in the young guys is just to lead by example. Show them that we’re still practicing hard. Practice harder to correct what happened.”
Added redshirt junior right tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty: “I think emotions are high. Going forward, I think we’re just going to continue to do what we do and try to improve our game and continue to learn from our mistakes. I think, most importantly, going forward as a team we just need to learn confidence and trust in ourselves.”
Michigan doesn’t have to look very far back to find an example of how one loss can turn into a string of them if the Wolverines aren’t careful about how they respond to it.
In 2016, Michigan’s first loss, to Iowa in November, was also unexpected. And while the Wolverines were able to respond with a win over Indiana — as they also did this year — they lost the final two games of their season to then-No. 2 Ohio State and then-No. 10 Florida State.
Though Michigan’s losses have come much earlier this season, Harbaugh said Monday that the lesson he intends to teach is the same.
“The team that goes through this understands — can have a great opportunity of understanding — where there needs to be a response,” he said. “The response that comes as coaches and players (is) gotta keep coaching and players gotta find out what they’re made of from a competitive standpoint.
“The going gets tough, the tough get going. It’s a cliché, but clichés are usually clichés because they’re true.”
Harbaugh was then asked if he thought the Wolverines had it in them.
“I believe we do,” he said. “(I) believe that this team will respond.”