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What Did We Really Expect from Michigan?

Jim Harbaugh takes a look at the scoreboard Thursday night as Michigan lost 24-17 to Utah in Salt Lake City.

Written By: Drew Duff | @drewduff96
Member of Ball State Sports Link

Yes, Jim Harbaugh did lose his first game as head coach at Michigan, and everything is going to be ok. Really, it is.

I was dumbfounded after reading blog posts and other comments online the day following the game.

Did these spoiled fans just expect Michigan to become Alabama by their first game?

Michigan football has not been in a good state for quite a while, and it’s going to take time to get the program back to prominence.

Here are four reasons why people shouldn’t freak out about Michigan losing its first game.

  1. Michigan is currently not a good football program

They’re just not. There is no other way to say it.

Last year, this team was 5-7, posting a 3-5 record in conference play. In two of their three Big Ten wins, the Wolverines scored only one touchdown.

Michigan also went through a lot of negative national coverage last year. The Shane Morris concussion controversy vs. Minnesota and AD Dave Brandon resigning in the middle of the season made one of the previously elite college football programs in the nation look like amateurs.

QB Shane Morris gets helped off the field after he suffered a concussion against Minnesota on September 28, 2014.

The Brady Hoke era really took a toll on the program. Hoke recruited good players with a lot of raw talent, but was unable to develop that talent into functional, well rounded players. That job has now fallen on the shoulders on Harbaugh, and it will not be an easy task, considering they are not players that he himself recruited.

Before Hoke came Rich Rodriguez. The hiring of Rodriguez at Michigan was initially seen as a tremendous move. But heading into his third season with an 8-15 overall record, something had to change, and after blowout losses to rivals Michigan State and Ohio State, his career at Michigan was over after the season.

Harbaugh is now the program’s third coach in seven years. Comparatively, Michigan had three coaches in 38 years, spanning from 1969-2007. Michigan football, since Lloyd Carr’s departure, has gone 46-42. They have had five or more losses in six of the last seven seasons (compared to two seasons of five-or-more losses in the 38 seasons prior).

To say Michigan has struggled over the last eight years or so is probably an understatement.

  1. Utah is a very underrated football team with a lot of recent success

A lot of people, including much of the college football media, haven’t really given the Utes much credit for just how good of a team they are.

In a recent 247Sports.com article about the loss, Kirk Herbstreit said “I don’t think the nation…respects who Utah is, especially in their stadium.”

Last year, this Utah team finished 9-4. Two of those losses were by three points of less, and the other two were to national runner up Oregon and to a very talented, Rich Rod coached Arizona team. The Utes went to Las Vegas Bowl and defeated a surprising 10-win Colorado State team, coached by current Florida head man Jim McElwain, by 35 points. The team also returns seven offensive and six defensive starters from last year.

Utah players celebrate their 45-10 bowl victory over Colorado State last season.

Still not convinced? Then let’s take a look at Utah’s success even before last season. Kyle Whittingham is 86-43 as head coach, and holds a record of 170-84 overall with the university (he has been with the program since 1994, and head coach since 2005).

During Whittingham’s time as head coach, Utah has finished in the top 10 three times, including a No. 4 ranking following an undefeated season in 2008. To go along with that, he has won 12 of 14 bowl games.

Utah has also only been in a Power Five conference since 2011. Those stats are just downright impressive, and I believe that Michigan was a little surprised by how much talent and high level coaching that the Utes have.

  1. Jim Harbaugh is not God

There are a lot of Michigan fans out there with this idea that Jim Harbaugh is a miracle worker. Trust me, he’s not. And no, he’s not a machine either. He is human, made of skin and bones, and it will take time for him to fix Michigan.

His first head coaching stint was with the San Diego Toreros, an unknown FCS team in the Pioneer League. In San Diego’s 50 years of football prior to Harbaugh, they had never been to the postseason or won a conference championship. To say the least, they were not winners.

He went 7-4 with San Diego in year one. He then proceeded to have back-to-back 11 win seasons, and won the conference championship both years. San Diego might not be the best example of Harbaugh being only human, but it still took him time to get things the way he wanted them.

Jim Harbaugh looks on during a game at San Diego.

Stanford was a much different story however. The year before he took over in Palo Alto, they were 1-11, and from 1990 up to his arrival in 2007, the Cardinal had 6 winning seasons. They were notoriously bad.

He finished 4-8 in his first year, but the season did have bright spots. Stanford upset No. 2 USC that year on the road, and defeated rival Cal for the first time in six seasons.

The next season he was 5-7, which was followed by an eight win season and a bowl berth. Finally in Harbaugh’s fourth year, Stanford went 12-1 (with an average margin of victory of 23 points) and won the Orange Bowl. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s four years it took for Harbaugh to make Stanford elite.

Let’s also not forget just how much pressure he is under now, and I believe it finally set in for him after the game.

During his post-game press conference, he was very short (even more so than usual) and had a stare that could go on for a thousand miles.

He was definitely bothered by the loss, but he knows what went wrong and how to fix those problems. After all, the man has been to the Super Bowl.

  1. Overall, Michigan played a surprisingly good game

This might be the most important reason to not freak out. Michigan played an impressive game against the Utes. They only lost by a single touchdown. They outgained Utah 355-337, had more time of possession, and had the same amount of first downs.

I would say the biggest reason Michigan was on the losing end was due to fifth year senior transfer QB Jake Rudock.

He was uncharacteristically bad, throwing three interceptions (he threw five all of last season). The final turnover was a returned for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, putting the game out of reach.

QB Jake Rudock drops back to throw. The fifth year senior transferred from Iowa in the spring, and has thrown for over 2,300 yards the last two seasons.

All of the blame can’t be placed on him however. The first interception that Rudock threw wasn’t his fault. True freshman WR Grant Perry ran the wrong route, leading to the turnover. The offensive line also did not play well, as Michigan collectively ran for only 76 yards on 29 carries.

Despite all of this, there were many good things to be taken away from the game.

Michigan’s defense continued to look strong from last season, holding Utes RB Devontae Booker to only 69 yards.

My point has been made. Give Harbaugh two or three years, and Michigan will return to greatness.

The fans, the alumni, and everyone involved with the university has placed a lot of pressure on him for the first game.

Now that it is over with and out of the way, look for this Michigan team to kick into high gear and surprise a few people.

1 Comment on What Did We Really Expect from Michigan?

  1. Hey Drew, good artical, I am sure that a lot of peple hope so.\
    why don’t you send to Stephen & Mathew. If you have thier e-mail address.

    Like

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