Did Pride Cost Harbaugh In Latest Loss To Ohio State?

It seemed he wanted to win, and prove a point.

Will Burchfield
November 24, 2018 - 7:44 pm

© Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports


Jim Harbaugh was asked several pointed questions following his team’s embarrassing loss to Ohio State on Saturday, and his response was pretty much the same each time: “Take responsibility for it.”

Sometimes he was speaking for himself, sometimes he was speaking on behalf of the team. Indeed, there’s lots of blame to go around.

But the bulk of the criticism will be directed at Harbaugh, and the coach has no choice but to wear it. This is the best team he’s had at Michigan. That was the most vulnerable Ohio State team he’s faced. And the Buckeyes rolled from start to finish, humiliating the Wolverines 62-39, the most points they've ever scored in The Game. 

And to think: Harbaugh was hired, in large part, to make The Game even again.

He came close in 2016, within a tantalizing few inches. He was right there last year, too, ultimately undone by inferior personnel. Those near misses only served to make Saturday’s meltdown more baffling. This was the game Harbaugh was supposed to get over the hump.

Instead he tripped and fell and his team went splat.

If not this year, when?

“We all had mindsets of going to the Big Ten championship, we all had mindsets of beating Ohio State,” said safety Tyree Kinnel. “I felt like we started having that mindset after the Wisconsin game. We beat them, beat Michigan state, beat Penn State. We were high on confidence, but maybe we got a little bit too ahead of ourselves.”

Harbaugh shot down the notion that his players entered the game overconfident. But is it possible the head coach was undone by hubris himself? He stubbornly ran the same plays for most of the first half, when it was clear those plays weren’t working. It seemed he wanted to ram the ball down his rival’s throat as much as he wanted to gain meaningful yards.

He thought this staid, prideful operation would work, because it’s worked against every other Big Ten opponent on the schedule. Did he ever think to consider what would happen if it didn’t?

“Wanted to run our best plays,” he said of the game plan early on. “Throwing it, moving the ball, outside zone, inside power, we had basically everything. Drop back, zone read, it was all in the plan. Roll-outs, boots, that was our plan.”

Maybe so, but it never came to fruition. The Wolverines struggled to move the ball without help from Ohio State’s defense, a defense that last week gave up 51 points to Maryland, while the Buckeyes broke off big plays with ease. It was toothless execution on one side, ruthless execution on the other. By halftime, Ohio State had 19 first downs to Michigan’s nine.

And Urban Meyer had Harbaugh figured out. Again.

Earlier this week, Harbaugh suggested Michigan's offense had some tricks up its sleeve for the Buckeyes. If so, they weren't all that sly. He told his team at halftime, down 24-19, that "it's time to throw everything at them." If they did, the Wolverines' arsenal wasn't all that deep. In the most important quarter of the season, Michigan was outscored 17-0. 

The only point left to prove was just how many the Buckeyes would score. 

Look, Don Brown’s defense had a miserable day, far worse than anyone could have imagined. There's no absolving that unit, hailed as the best in the country. But this is Harbaugh’s offense and Harbaugh's team at large. And after three losses in three games against Ohio State, this was his chance. In the end, he stuck to the same old script and got the same old results.

In the final minute of the first half, Shea Patterson aired a ball out to Nico Collins who made a spectular catch in the endzone. It was Michigan's first play of at least 20 yards -- imagine that. (Ohio State, by that point, already had five.) The Buckeyes fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Michigan promptly scored another touchdown to make it 21-19. The game was close again, until it wasn’t.

In reality, The Game hasn’t been close for a while. And there's no telling when, or if, that might change.