| Detroit Free Press
Michigan football set a record Saturday night. Just not one the Wolverines will be proud of.
And a nightmare season for coach Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines officially reached a new low.
In a blasé 49-11 loss, Michigan (1-3) was outplayed and unprepared against a Badgers team missing several key contributors and that had not played since the opening week after a COVID-19 outbreak.
It was not an exaggeration to say the first half may have been the worst half of football ever played by a Michigan team. The Wolverines gained one yard through their first four drives — and threw two interceptions. Meanwhile, the defense was as porous as it has been all season, giving up four consecutive touchdowns.
What is going on with this team?
It doesn’t help Michigan is missing arguably what was supposed to be its top five players. Receiver Nico Collins and cornerback Ambry Thomas opted out before the season; Kwity Paye, Jalen Mayfield and Aidan Hutchinson are injured. Add the absences to what is a young and inexperienced roster, and there’s a recipe for disaster.
Yet, it was bewildering how flat Michigan played in the first half. The Wolverines played as if they were going through the motions. The coaching staff can’t do anything to control injuries or unexpected attrition, but it’s on Harbaugh and his assistants to motivate the players and develop a coherent game plan that puts players in the best position. That hasn’t happened the past three weeks.
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Offense fizzles out. QB controversy brewing
In what has already been a trying year for Michigan’s offense, the unit hit rock bottom in the first half. On the very first play, Joe Milton threw a pass that bounced off tight end Nick Eubanks and was picked off. On the next drive, Milton threw a pass directly at a linebacker for another pick. And the two drives after that went three-and-out. Michigan’s fifth drive went 74 yards — but Milton was stuffed on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line. And by then, the game was effectively out of reach.
Nothing has come easy for Michigan since the offense lit up Minnesota in the season opener. The Wolverines constantly put themselves in difficult situations. Take the second drive, which began at the 47 after a 43-yard kick return from Giles Jackson. The Wolverines promptly committed a false start penalty, ran for a three-yard loss, ran for a two-yard gain and then Milton threw his second pick in as many pass attempts.
There’s no consistency to the offense or play-calling, either. The pass game is out of sorts. The run game is non-existent. And the Wolverines can’t even gain half a yard consistently.
But they could have a quarterback controversy on their hands. Milton was lifted in the third quarter for backup Cade McNamara, who proceeded to complete his first four passes for 74 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion. All of McNamara’s throws featured pinpoint accuracy. And at least for that one possession — Michigan gained zero yards on its final two drives — he moved the ball with a level of ease Milton could not achieve.
No easy solutions
Michigan is positioned to finish with a losing record for the first time in the Harbaugh era. What’s next for this team? The Wolverines will likely want a mulligan after rewatching their first-half performance. They seemed to play with more fire and intensity after halftime. But you can’t spot the other team a 28-point lead and expect to get anywhere. The Wolverines have now allowed the opening touchdown in all four of their games, and this team is not talented enough to play from behind.
Michigan will need to find a way to get off to a better start than it has. It’ll help if the Wolverines get Paye, Mayfield or left tackle Ryan Hayes back from injury. Even then, it’ll take a lot of squinting to find a couple more wins left on this schedule. The Wolverines can’t score on offense. And can barely keep opponents from scoring. There are four games left (half off this COVID-shortened season) — but how many people will be watching those games?