For Michigan: Bad loss, great season

On Saturday, the Michigan Wolverines suffered a historic loss to arch-rival Ohio State, 62-39, causing despair among many Michigan fans. As bad as it was, however, the program is a lot better than it was four years ago, and will get better still.

After the Michigan football finished a disappointing 8-and-5 last year, most pundits figured the Wolverines wouldn’t be much better this year. Worse, they had one of the toughest schedules in the country.

When Notre Dame beat Michigan in the season opener, the Wolverines dropped from 14thto 21st place. Expectations dropped even lower. But the Wolverines started knocking off teams one by one, including a three-game gauntlet against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State, all ranked teams.

After the Wolverines crushed them all, they found themselves ranked fourth in the country — in perfect position to earn a spot in the four-team national playoff, which would be a first for the Wolverines. The only tough opponent left was the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Of course, that’s a pretty big obstacle for the Wolverines, who have only beaten the Buckeyes twice this century. But the Buckeyes had been creamed by Purdue, 49-20, and got lucky against mediocre Maryland to win in overtime. The Buckeyes looked uncharacteristically shaky, and came into the Michigan game as underdogs at home.

But they say in rivalries, the previous games don’t matter – and boy was that true Saturday. Ohio State seemed supremely confident, while Michigan Michigan’s offense seemed too conservative, and its defense too aggressive.

Still,  the Wolverines still trailed by only eight points in the third quarter, when they dropped a pass, and had to punt. The Buckeyes blocked that punt and returned it for a touchdown, and the floodgates opened.

The Buckeyes shredded Michigan’s vaunted defense for 62 points, more than any opponent has ever scored against Michigan in regulation since Michigan started playing football in 1879.

Michigan picked a bad day to play its worst game of the season, and Ohio State picked a great day to play its best.

Perspective is not a great attribute of college football fans generally, and perhaps Michigan’s in particular. The Wolverines have won more titles than any other Big Ten school, and more games than anyone, anywhere.

If you told Michigan fans after the Notre Dame game that the Wolverines would win ten games, they’d be ecstatic. And if you added that their team would score 39 points against Ohio State, they’d be thrilled – and would probably assume their team would blow out the Buckeyes.

It’s true that in Harbaugh’s four years at Michigan, he has yet to beat the Buckeyes, or win a Big Ten title. But the three previous coaches failed to win a crown for a decade. This is not a hole that Harbaugh dug. But the shovel is in his hands now.

And it’s in good hands: In the 11 years before Harbaugh returned, Michigan managed to win 10 games exactly twice. Harbaugh has won 10 games in three of his first four seasons – the first Michigan coach to do that in more than a century. And he’s building it to last, on and off the field.

Michigan will lose some key players next year, mainly on defense, but they just reload. And on offense, almost all Michigan’s starters will be returning. Next year’s schedule is more favorable, too, with Michigan’s three main rivals — Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State – all coming to Ann Arbor.

Michigan fans take losing hard, and losing to Ohio State the hardest. But you watch. After a few days of breathing deeply, and visualizing a sunset, they’ll come to their senses and realize Harbaugh has done a pretty amazing job turning around their team around.

And if not Harbaugh, who?

That’s what I thought.

 

 

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  • Tom Walbridge November 30, 2018 at 9:36 am

    John, absolutely loved your speech last night! Great story passionately told. I’ve seen you talk a few times and that was the best by far!

    However, I have 2 questions:

    1. Do you think the explosion had an impact on the war? Did people realize what this meant as a weapon of mass destruction?

    2. What does the “U” stand for?

    Thanks for writing about this great story!

    Tom Walbridge
    UofM ’77 and ’83

    Reply
  • Tim Moore November 30, 2018 at 9:53 am

    At least we have the hoops team, which shows up in big games. Thank God for Coach Beilein. I have always been football first, but at this point, I almost want to see Coach B. get that title more than Harbaugh, and that’s because we’re closer in hoops…right at the doorstep. Can’t beat OSU on the field, but we can beat them on the court.

    Reply
  • Mark Welsh November 30, 2018 at 9:59 am

    Great article, and i agree with you also. The Michigan fans that actually want Coach Harbaugh out have got to be the young fans and forgot how bad things were the 11 years before he got here. He’s building the Program imo the same as Saban did at Bama, GREAT RECRUITING CLASSES 1 AFTER ANOTHER, and what that’s gonna do is exactly what is happening next season with all the guys we have to replace on Defense. Guys are leaving for the NFL DRAFT EARLY AND GRADUATING BUT SINCE COACH AND THE STAFF HAVE RECRUITED SO WELL, WE JUST RELOADING NOT REBUILDING AND THAT’S THE 1ST STEP THAT WE HAVE TO TAKE TO BE ABLE TO TAKEOVER THE REIGNS FROM OHIO ST. BECAUSE THEY ALSO RELOAD SO NOW IT’S GONNA BE A BATTLE EVERY YEAR FOR THE BIG AND WE WILL WIN THE BIG NEXT YEAR AND MAKE THE CFP. LIKE YOU SAID NOTRE DAME, MICHIGAN ST, AND OHIO ST. ALL HAVE TO COME TO AA AND PLAY IN THE BIG HOUSE AND YOU BETTER BELIEVE THAT WERE NOT LIKE ANY OTHER FANS WERE GONNA PACK 115,000 INTO THE BIG HOUSE AND HAVE THAT PLACE ROCKING AND BEAT ALL OF THEM, WE WON EVERY HOME GAME THIS SEASON AND THE HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE IS GONNA BE GREAT. A LONG WINNING STREAK IS IN THE MAKING AT THE BIG HOUSE. #GoBlue

    Reply
  • Dave G November 30, 2018 at 10:08 am

    Thank you for your continued balanced perspective. So tired of hearing all the nay sayers! I was in Columbus for the game and , of course, very disappointed. But this team gave us a great run this year and has everything needed for a great bowl showing.

    Reply
  • Fca53 November 30, 2018 at 10:47 am

    I always love your perspective. The Wolverines are in good hands under Harbaugh. It is so evident that he loves the university and his football team. As an educator, I see such value in the Team bonding and character building things he does with them. I like his heart. The team spirit increases each year and is contagious. They look like they are having fun.
    Let’s look at our rival’s records against OSU. ND and MSU should know better than to laugh.

    Reply
  • Richard o’connell November 30, 2018 at 11:17 am

    Bac,

    Well done, per usual. Was thinking it might be a good time for a book about John Beilein. You’d be the perfect man for that job!!

    All my best,

    Rich

    Reply
  • Paul Brand November 30, 2018 at 11:59 am

    Good article, John – but of course!

    Reply
  • Scott B November 30, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    Message (Required)
    Thanks John for once again being the voice of reason among all of the ridiculous social media takes. Still hoping you will come to GR to promote your book

    Reply
  • Tom Handyside, '67 BSCE, MSCE November 30, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    Keep winning 9,10,11 games a year, graduate athletes, feed the pros and maintain a clean program – if you build it, they will come. Good bye for now, good luck tomorrow, Go Blue! Forever.

    Reply
  • Jerry Kolins November 30, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    Thank you for the latest Bacon Blog. You are correct. We can never have too much Bacon. And I needed your perspective on that last game of the year. Also I would like to say that your book Endzone: The Rise, Fall and Return of Michigan Football is one of the best business management books I have read. Finally, I am a little embarrassed to admit I did not know of the Halifax explosion until you educated me. That is a most powerful story you made comprehensible. Thank you.

    Reply
  • Todd J. Anson November 30, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Well said, Johnny U. The infamous “White Paper” shared with our Regents to support Coach Harbaugh’s recruitment and written about in your Best Selling “Endzone” included three principal bullet points- 1) That nobody would create a “Race to the BCS” faster, 2) That Harbaugh would create a “Race to the Top Academically,” and 3) That nobody would replenish Michigan’s “war chest” of the money needed to pursue excellence faster. Check. Check. Check. We have twice in four years entered the Ohio State game with a spot in the CFP’s likely at stake and won 10 games in 3 of 4 seasons, we have achieved our Michigan’s 1st-ever 990 APR graduation rate in ’16 (something Stanford has yet to ever accomplish) and then doubled down by doing it a second year in a row in ’17, and, our season ticket sales again have a waiting list, our boxes are full and we have just completed our biggest-ever $5B “Victors for Michigan” campaign, for which the optimism restored by Coach Harbaugh has surely conservatively added between $300-$400M to our results. Most people fail to value this last value he brings to our university. #BeatOhio remains on our list of unaccomplished goals.

    Reply
  • john w minton jr November 30, 2018 at 3:07 pm

    Michigan was caught thinking about winning rather than playing. It wasn’t as bad as 1968, but it was bad. It will take time to build a winning attitude and it will happen with this coach.

    Bomberjohn5

    Reply
  • Rob DeBrooke November 30, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    There is caoaching, and Big Game Coaching. Harbaugh is great at the first, and will get greater at the latter.

    Reply
  • Eugene Hashimoto November 30, 2018 at 11:39 pm

    Harbaugh never promised us any championships, no good coach would. Of course he knows that’s the expectation to keep the job. What he has promised repeatedly is to make the program the builder of MEN. He’s fulfilling that. I would love to think Michigan is squeaky clean, I know that’s probably not true, but neither is our program mired in scandal, our players are not frequently getting arrested, our coaches don’t downplay sexual assault or child abuse, our university President had publicly said that if things are being covered up people should go to the media.
    Of course I want more wins, but not at any cost. I may be in the minority, but I’m OK with an occasional championship.
    I’m OK with being a contender each year but maybe falling short.
    It’s difficult to balance the 2 and it affects recruiting and therefore being a contender each year.
    Harbaugh is doing that and doing it well.
    I’m proud of our program for that.

    Reply
  • Steven December 1, 2018 at 9:30 am

    The Buckeyes shredded Michigan’s vaunted defense for 62 points, more than any opponent has ever scored against Michigan in regulation since Michigan started playing football in 1879.

    This pretty much sums up Michigans football program the last couple decades. Cannot win a game when needed.

    Reply
  • Mark Fielding Yost December 1, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    John, I couldn’t agree with you more! Go Harbaugh and Go Blue!

    Reply
  • JACK HAMMYour name (Required) December 1, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    Message (Required)MICHIGAN FANS WERE NOT THE ONLY PEOPLE SHOCKED BY THEIR LOSS. AS A TRUE SPARTAN FAN, I COULDN’T BELIEVE THEY GOT TROUNCED BY THE BUCKEYES !!!! I BELIEVED THAT THE MAZE AND BLUE WOULD BEAT THEM FOR THE FIRST TIME UNDER HARBAUGH’S LEADERSHIP.

    HAVING SAID THAT, A 10-2 SEASON ISN’T ALL THAT BAD.

    Reply
  • JACK HAMM) December 1, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    Message (Required)EVEN WE SPARTAN FANS WERE SHOCKED !!!!

    PERHAPS THE TEAM WAS TOO BUSY READING THEIR OWN HEADLINES.

    HAVING SAID ALL THAT, A 10/2 SEASON ISN’T ALL THAT BAD.

    Reply
  • Tony Norman December 1, 2018 at 11:10 pm

    This is a very reasonable and responsible take on what is arguably the most existentially disappointing game in Wolverine history. Still, it makes sense to have perspective about this. Harbaugh has done wonders for the Wolverines even if he has yet to take them to the Promised Land. He has taken them to the mountain. They can look down into valley of the land that was “promised” to them by the gods of Big Ten Football, but it’s probably going to take Harbaugh (metaphorically speaking) the same 40 years it took Moses to lead his people to the Land of Milk and Honey. This is not an encouraging thought, I’m sure, but give Harbaugh time. He’s obviously doing something right. Michigan had a great season that was topped with a disappointing loss. Wear your Michigan hoodies proudly and say “go Blue” again like you mean it. I write these words from Pittsburgh, which is University of Pittsburgh and Penn State territory, so perspective is always warranted.

    Reply
  • johnubacon December 4, 2018 at 11:47 am

    Thanks, Tom, for your kind words.

    1. Do you think the explosion had an impact on the war? Did people realize what this meant as a weapon of mass destruction?

    I do. It transformed all the death and destruction overseas from an abstract issue to a very real one for the citizens on the home front, and probably hastened people’s desire for peace.

    I can’t be certain about the later, but since Oppenheimer and company studied Halifax closely, they must have realized the potential for a gigantic explosion on civilians to change public opinion.

    2. What does the “U” stand for?

    My middle name. 😉

    -John

    Reply
  • johnubacon December 4, 2018 at 11:48 am

    Thanks, Oak!

    Reply
  • johnubacon December 4, 2018 at 11:49 am

    All true, Todd — and all good points!

    Reply
  • johnubacon December 4, 2018 at 11:51 am

    A wise take, per usual. Thanks for the kind words, Tony — from you, a real pro, they mean a lot.

    -JUB

    Reply

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