Michigan State 27, Michigan 24

Michigan State 27, Michigan 24

November 1, 2020
Joe Milton (image via Freep)

This was bad. I want to get this out of the way first. I don’t like it when people say “This is inexcusable!” I will totally forgive Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown if they beat Ohio State. But you can’t just lay an egg against a rival – a terrible rival with a first-year coach who just lost to Rutgers – and walk away largely unscathed. This is probably the worst loss of Jim Harbaugh’s career, even though perhaps the 2015 loss was more heartbreaking, considering it took place with :00 seconds left on the clock. At least you could see this one coming.

Hit the jump for more.

That elephant . . . it’s still in the room. Joe Milton also looked bad. He is playing how one would expect a freshman to play. (Note: He is a redshirt sophomore.) On the face of it, going 32/51 for 300 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions doesn’t look terrible. And I’ve seen worse. But Milton can’t read a defense. He’s locking on to one receiver, and he’s throwing it to That Guy, regardless of what the defense does. Michigan State did exactly what I would have done (from a base standpoint; I don’t want to give myself too much credit from a scheme perspect): They loaded the box, took away the run, and dared Milton to beat them. He didn’t, because he couldn’t. I am going to pat myself on the back for this one, because he did exactly what my analysis of him from the past two seasons suggested he would:

  • He lacked touch
  • He got happy feet despite clean pockets
  • He tried to force the ball to well covered receivers

I will try to get into this more later if I have time, but if you disagree with me . . . you weren’t listening to Joel Klatt or Urban Meyer or any other talking head who analyzed the game, either.

The cornerbacks got cooked. Never in my life have I seen such terrible cornerback play at Michigan as we saw on Saturday, and that includes the Rich Rodriguez years and any blowout loss to Ohio State. Freshman Ricky White had 8 catches for 196 yards and 1 touchdown. (Against Rutgers White had 1 catch for 5 yards.) Jalen Nailor had 2 catches for 68 yards. (Against Rutgers it took him 6 catches to get to 84 yards.) Gemon Green has the physical tools to be successful at Michigan – length, speed, toughness – but he’s not playing with good technique right now. Vincent Gray, meanwhile . . . this might be an overreaction, but I’m worried about his future. He’s slow, did not play with good technique, and just went through probably the worst game in his life. Aside from the lack of physical tools, he might have a hard time overcoming this game from a mental standpoint. It was gross.

Bipolar Josh Gattis. Gattis went from calling perhaps the best game of his life against Minnesota to calling an atrocious one against Michigan State. Your QB throws the ball 51 times and scores 0 touchdowns? You march the ball down the field on your best drive with Milton getting in rhythm, and then call a Wildcat jump pass from Hassan Haskins to walk-on tight end Carter Selzer? You run into stacked boxes repeatedly when the offensive line isn’t getting much movement? You largely eschew the designed run game for the QB?

Erick All isn’t the answer. I got one thing right: I predicted that Michigan would get the ball to Giles Jackson more, and he led the team in receptions (7) while finishing second in yards (58). Roman Wilson had 5 receptions for 71 yards. But this team is really missing Nico Collins. Joe Milton is targeting sophomore Erick All way too often, and all he’s done so far is catch an arrow route in the flat against Minnesota and run for a chunk of yards. Otherwise, he has at least 3 drops in two games, and his total against Michigan State was 3 catches for 13 yards (4.3 yards/catch). I tweeted during the game that Michigan needed to put All on the bench so Milton might look at someone who’s open. Obviously, Milton and All have some sort of blood brother relationship going on. Look, I was in love with Jennifer Love Hewitt at one point, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get a wandering eye for Shannon Elizabeth.

Where’s the pass rush? People in the media keep saying Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye are potential All-Americans. Rocky Lombardi attempted 32 passes, got sacked 0 times, and was hurried twice.

Linebacker depth is a problem. I felt like I kind of beat this to death in the off-season and during the countdown, but Michigan’s depth at linebacker is whittled down to almost nothing. A few linebackers went out injured on Saturday, including middle linebacker Cam McGrone, who was replaced by walk-on Adam Shibley. Good for Shibley, whose high school film I liked a few years ago, but Michigan has lost a ton of linebackers over the past couple seasons, including Rutgers starter Drew Singleton and a guy who doesn’t appear to be playing anywhere this season, Jordan Anthony. Ben VanSumeren got dinged up, and so did Michael Barrett for a time. The only starting linebacker (counting the SAM) to last the entire game was Joshua Ross. The backups are freshmen, walk-ons, and sophomore Anthony Solomon. This is not a good situation.

Onside kick frippery. That onside kick crap at the end was atrocious. First, it looked like Michigan had no idea what they were doing. Don’t get me wrong. I know they purposefully delayed, because they were looking to the sideline for exactly which version of an onside kick they were going to execute. That’s not what I’m talking about. I mean the communication and execution were terrible. And on top of that, the mere idea of using the dribble kick with kicker Quinn Nordin being the retriever is idiotic in that situation. The dribble kick wasn’t open, and Nordin is surely not the fastest guy you could put there to cover enough ground to retrieve that kick. That was terrible all around.

What does it all mean? I said this at the time, but Minnesota didn’t look good. They lack team speed – especially on defense – and their offense is pretty predictable. Maryland put up 45 points on them, and the Gophers are 0-2. Joe Milton is not a good quarterback right now, and Michigan’s defensive backfield is in shambles. I actually like MSU’s receiving corps, so I don’t think it’s terrible that their receivers would give Michigan a hard time. The more concerning thing is that Rocky Lombardi sucks, and he still found a way to get the ball to those receivers. Normally, Michigan defensive backs are close enough- or confident enough – to make plays on the ball, and they’re not doing it.

In today’s game, if you can’t pass effectively . . . and you can’t defend the pass effectively . . . you’re in trouble.


  1. Comments: 523
    Joined: 8/12/2015
    Nov 01, 2020 at 7:52 AM

    Next week at Indiana may be quite a challenge. The schedule going forward does not look good … Rutgers and Maryland are plausible wins, but not assured. Wisconsin and Penn State are most likely losses. Ohio State is most certainly a loss.

    The Michigan program is at a crossroads.

  2. Comments: 48
    Joined: 1/2/2016
    Nov 01, 2020 at 8:15 AM

    Speaking as a layman, Harbaugh’s teams have simply looked disorganized and poorly-coached. I am starting to think that Brown is not that good a DC. He inherited alot of talent from Hoke and Mattison, and I wonder if Harbaugh should have handed the keys to the defense to Mattison in 2015. I also think Hoke and Mattison did a better job recruiting than Brown has done, esp on D-line. I am at point now where I don’t think this team will ever be consistently ranked in top 10 under Harbaugh, and to me they have enough talent to at least be a consistent top 10 team.

  3. Comments: 1357
    Joined: 8/13/2015
    Nov 01, 2020 at 8:55 AM

    That pretty much sucked, in its entirety.

  4. Comments: 6285
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Nov 01, 2020 at 9:41 AM

    Bad offense. Bad defense. Bad special teams. It was a comprehensive failure. The first paragraph is spot on but I did not see it coming at all.

  5. Comments: 20
    Joined: 6/19/2020
    Nov 01, 2020 at 10:00 AM

    I don’t see anyway Milton could have been better than McCaffrey.

    Milton has actually surprised me with his running ability, but he’s still visibly worse than McCaffrey. He lacks burst, and he doesn’t fight for extra yards.

    The bigger issue is his passing is mediocre, and our offensive play-calling exacerbated this to the nth degree. His whole selling-point as a recruit was a cannon arm yet we only use that cannon for is to throw high-risk across-the-field out routes where the ball has to travel 50 yards for us to gain 10. Why aren’t we throwing the ball downfield? MSU torched us with downfield throws. How could we not at least match them with faster receivers and a stronger QB?

    And given how pathetic our inside run game was, I don’t think it’s an acceptable excuse to say our deep routes were covered. They can’t both be double-covering deep routes and stacking the box. One or the other has to be open; the coaches did a horrible job of finding the open spots on the field.

    • Comments: 1
      Joined: 7/6/2017
      Nov 01, 2020 at 10:46 AM

      agree with most of that, especially the McCaff vs Milton decision (if that occurred). The most troubling sign for the short and long term is Milton (the corners can be fixed or schemed).

      I am worried we have our Navarre for the next few years. Unlike your comment, I don’t see his running ability and this surprised me to the downside. He does not know when to run it and otherwise lacks presence in the pocket. These, in my opinion, are intuitive skills. Expecting those skills to be taught is way too optimistic. His most impressive run was the ten yarder he trucked over two guys. That’s not sustainable. Expect the sacks and picks to pile up.

    • Comments: 35
      Joined: 10/6/2019
      Nov 01, 2020 at 11:11 AM

      An OC can only do so much if the QB can’t go through progressions to find the open man. On the play where Milton threw to a double-covered All, he had 2 receivers wide open underneath with tons of YAC available.

      Teams that have prolific passing offenses despite QBs without pro arm talent (ex: Texas with Ehlinger) just seem to succeed at getting the ball to the open man, even if not every underneath throw necessarily converts. I admire teams that can seem to do this in their sleep, especially if they have clever ways of making things very easy for their players at the expense of complexity or confusion. Ohio State is an example of a team that seems to run a total of 6 different plays on offense (I’m sure this is an exaggeration). We have enough talent at receiver that when 3 or 4 of them are out there, at least 1 should be open at all times, right? Couldn’t that be us?

      To me the question is, why is Michigan so persistently bad at setting up the conditions where our QBs can find the open man without requiring great feats of athleticism or luck? Is it a failure to use constraint plays effectively, including the threat of QB run? Is it a needlessly dense playbook? Too much coaching turnover? Are we recruiting the wrong players? Some sort of weird Harbaugh or Michigan era culture of entitlement?

      I’m a layperson so please forgive my hubris at thinking that I understand offensive playcalling or scheming, I really don’t. But is it crazy for me to think that with our talent on offense & coaching, shouldn’t we be able to find a dozen or so pass plays that Milton can execute for 5-8yds in his sleep, the way that OSU has utilized “mesh”? Why do other teams seem to have “routine” pass plays, whereas most Michigan dropbacks tend to feel like prayers in a 2min drill?

      • Comments: 263
        Joined: 8/12/2015
        Painter Smurf
        Nov 01, 2020 at 11:30 AM

        I think you answer your own question. The All double coverage thing should have been an easy completion. He is getting easy reads and quick throws. Problem is he is predetermining where to go with the ball. Needs to at least be able to make pre snap reads and keep two options open (in any offense).

    • Comments: 263
      Joined: 8/12/2015
      Painter Smurf
      Nov 01, 2020 at 11:22 AM

      My fear is that the coaches got overly intoxicated with Miltons arm and physical tools and settled the QB competition on that basis. It was weird how abruptly McCaff bolted. Physical tools mean little if accuracy, vision, and/or decision making are lacking. Just look at Lombardi delivering multiple, catchable balls with DL bearing down. It’s still kinda early, but I’d expect a bit more poise from a 3rd year player who is supposedly a football workaholic.

      • Comments: 23
        Joined: 11/15/2015
        Nov 01, 2020 at 3:24 PM

        I think its clearer and clearer that’s what likely happened re: Milton vs McCaff. Gattis probably made his case to JH for Milton given his potential betting he’d coach him up into a star, even though Dylan was more ready, and Harbaugh trusted him and agreed. There’s certainly more time for Joe to develop but at this point Gattis has failed

  6. Comments: 111
    Joined: 10/14/2015
    Nov 01, 2020 at 12:02 PM

    This is Harbaugh’s worst loss. Totally inexcusable. Injuries are not an excuse. MSU are also down a few players.

    I think this is the turning point in Jim Harbaugh’s era. At least for me. Unless he beats Ohio this year, he is rightfully on the hot seat. It is time we get a new coach.

    • Comments: 359
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Nov 02, 2020 at 8:34 AM

      UM_1973 – “I think this is the turning point in Jim Harbaugh’s era. At least for me.”
      Mine was the monsoon game. This game is like the proverbial Wiley E Coyote splat.

  7. Comments: 400
    Joined: 12/24/2016
    Nov 01, 2020 at 12:13 PM

    OHhhh please lent me vent!:
    The first red flag 4 me re Harbaugh’s ability to build & coach a team came after the ’15 season when he failed to sign at least 5 OL’s in his first real recruiting class opportunity……… many more red flags have followed.

    I’ll reiterate as I’ve posted my remarks on this site previous:
    Michigan is NEVER going to compete with OSU lil lone beat Sparty to any degree of consistency until they have a HC that has OSU ties and can recruit the state of Ohio. This is the winning formula. A coach cut frum that mold, like Bo & moeller, etc who had direct OSU & state of Ohio ties and could recruit great talent from Ohio.

    Right now that best candidate is Luke Fickell who has and is doing very well at Cincy with OSU’s rejected. He knows the B10, he knows OSU/Michigan, he knows how and has the direct ties to Ohio recruiting.

    Fickell isn’t going to be at Cincy for ever. He will leave for greener pastures soon like Dantoni & Kelly have; some Blue chip program somewhere if not back to OSU. I think Day has NFL aspirations and will be leaving OSU sooner than later and with the success at Cincy that Fickell has had, he will be the most logical choice to replace Day at OSU……..
    ………UNLESS Michigan grabs him NOW! Fickell has Cincy at #7 in the country last I looked, he’s a damn good coach who can recruit the kind of talent that Michigan requires to compete for FIRST PLACE in the B10 East by defeating MSU, OSU & Psu.

    Enuff of Jim Harbaugh, don’t wait any more. Clear him out at the end of this season and get Fickell while he’s available………..
    As I See It & Thanx………..INTJohn

    • Comments: 82
      Joined: 1/10/2017
      Nov 01, 2020 at 4:45 PM

      Let me see if understand the whole “Ohio” thing.

      We’re going try to beat OSU with … their recruiting run-off (meaning, Ohio’s second string that wasn’t good enough for OSU)? Is that what you mean? If you haven’t noticed, OSU has been doing quite well with the first string. There aren’t many good arguments for choosing UM over OSU if you’re a top-tier player in Cleveland / Columbus / Cinci / Akron.

      I suppose you think that the second string will overcome the talent disadvantage because they “want it more” or because they “understand the rivalry?” Help me out here.

      • Comments: 400
        Joined: 12/24/2016
        Nov 01, 2020 at 6:16 PM

        No I’m not going to help you out here or anyone else for that matter.
        If you can’t intuitively connect the dots regarding the failures of Michigan football in the last 13 years and recognise the model for Michigan’s football success based on what has been successful for Michigan football in the past before the last 13 years there simply is no helping you.

        Long Live The Harbaugh Michigan Football Regime!

    • Comments: 111
      Joined: 10/14/2015
      Nov 01, 2020 at 11:55 PM

      Please not Fickell. He is the only OSU coach we managed to beat in the last 10 years. Why would we want him? Because of his ability to recruit in Ohio?

      Fickell will help you beat MSU. But he will not help close the gap on Ohio.

      • Comments: 523
        Joined: 8/12/2015
        Nov 02, 2020 at 5:38 AM

        In 2019 his Cincinnati team lost three games: once to Ohio State by a score of 42-0 to open the season, then back-to-back losses to Memphis to close out the regular season. He’s 5-0 so far in 2020, but the only notable win is over Memphis, which is 3-2 on the season.

        What’s Fickell known for, coaching-wise? His playing and assistant coaching background is on the defensive side of the ball. When I close my eyes and think about Fickell, I can’t recall any previous commentary about him being particularly special on either side of the ball. Good, yes; special, no.

    • Comments: 66
      Joined: 9/18/2016
      Nov 02, 2020 at 11:24 AM

      Same logic on why Fickell wasn’t going to leave Cincy for the MSU job, is the reason he’s NEVER coming to UoM. He’ll just bide his time at Cincy till Day decides to move to the NFL and then become the next OSU coach.

    • Comments: 8
      Joined: 7/14/2020
      Nov 02, 2020 at 12:11 PM

      Amen brother. Am shocked how many fans have no perspective, how our success has been with Ohio ties. d’Antonio was the one guy who could beat Tressel, and they didn’t get him, and is the source of his angst, as he wanted to coach here. Now to catch OSU, it’s gonna have to be Meyer… maybe Fickell, but maybe a current OSU coach if that’s even possible. I still don’t understand how Mattison didn’t have a block in his Michigan contrqct, to go to a rival, unless an absence of it was the o ly way he would stay in AA.

  8. Comments: 27
    Joined: 9/25/2019
    Nov 01, 2020 at 1:01 PM

    Year in and year out we see the same issues; 1) Failure to play inspired ball; 2) failure to be adequately prepared pre-game; 3) failure to adjust schematically; 4) failure to field a balanced and complete 2-deep; 4) reliance on a single defensive concept come hell or high water; 5) falling back to the same offensive tendency which is run the ball down the D’s throat; 6) failure to have a QB that doesn’t look fundamentally lost; 7) failure to seemingly have a recruiting strategy that makes sense (1st a lack of OL, then subsequently in various years lack of WR, lack of DTs, lack of CBs).

    I’ll stop there, but the bottom line is that this experiment has failed.

    • Comments: 66
      Joined: 9/18/2016
      Nov 02, 2020 at 11:28 AM

      You know the past couple of years when UoM was getting recruits from Mass or Connecticut, I was “well…….they did mine NJ, so maybe UoM was tapping an under the radar region”. Now its obvious that, no they’re not. While the big time programs are still picking the SE, CA, and TX clean, we’re recruiting the NE, a college football “deadzone”.

  9. Comments: 92
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Nov 01, 2020 at 1:26 PM

    Switching gears slightly after yesterday’s debacle. With new transfer rules can Michigan go after a good DB at other schools? Specifically if you are a really good dB and at Western Michigan, or similar why not come to Michigan to get better exposure? Because there is nobody in the 2021 class that is going to make our db’s better. Same with DT. Anybody know who might be out there?

    Also I still am not sure on how NIL will be implemented or if it truly a benefit to a wealthy school with a great brand.

    • Comments: 3845
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Nov 01, 2020 at 2:23 PM

      For this season? No. The deadline for enrollment has passed, so no players from the WMU or elsewhere would be able to join the team prior to January.

      But for next season, sure, Michigan could go after transfers from elsewhere.

      As for who’s out there, I really don’t know right now.

      • Comments: 92
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        Nov 01, 2020 at 3:11 PM

        Thanks. Yeah definitely next year. Will be interesting how some of the better programs “recruit” from other teams active rosters.

        DB is looking bleak for next year. Plus if they could get a planetary guy from Nose that would be nice

      • Comments: 523
        Joined: 8/12/2015
        Nov 02, 2020 at 5:40 AM

        Michigan would not be alone in the transfer market … going forward, I suspect a lot of teams in Michigan’s level of play will fish that market for talent, and I’m not sure at this point Michigan’s allure is all that strong. Better than some teams, but not strong enough to put them within striking distance of the upper levels of the game.

  10. Comments: 6
    Joined: 10/26/2020
    joseph dreamed dreams
    Nov 01, 2020 at 10:47 PM

    It takes a lot to run a football team well. I heard both Joe Gibbs and Bill Cower say they always put in 16 or more hour days every day. I heard Joe Gibbs say he had a cot set up in his office. Many days he would be up late designing plays. When he was to tired to keep thinking, writing and drawing he would lay his pen down, shut the lamp on his desk off, walk over to the cot, lay down, and go to sleep. Then when he woke up he’d get up, walk over to his desk, sit down, turn on the lamp, pick up the pen, and start writing again. He was a Super Bowl winning coach. Bill Cower too.
    I’m just wondering if the coaching staff at Michigan is like that.

  11. Comments: 66
    Joined: 9/18/2016
    Nov 02, 2020 at 11:19 AM

    It was obvious sitting there watching this debacle that Josh Gattis is only in his 2nd year as an OC. I don’t care what he said he did at Bama. His play calling was bad. It was obvious, even to someone with little knowledge of football play calling that MSU was going to stack the LOS and take away the run/RPO. Gattis had no answers! I would add that the OL wasn’t very good either. For all the credit they got in the MN game, it may just be that the Gophers are woeful on both sides of the ball, including the DL. Green/Gray were atrocious. I’m over the whole Dr. Blitz stuff but its hard to dump on him when the corners couldn’t cover anyone. Pretty hard to get a sustained pass rush when Lombardi was able to drop back 3 steps and heave the ball down field. There were only 3 outcomes that happened: MSU’s WR making the catch (way too often), UoM CBs interfering (way too often) or an incompletion (which rarely occurred). There was NEVER a threat of our CBs making a play and intercepting the ball. It’s to the point that I really believe Jim Harbaugh has been given WAY too much credit for his success at previous stops, In my mind he made the right hires and had great coordinators that hauled the freight. He’s pretty much come up empty here in AA when it comes to HR coordinator hires. Even Don Brown who has a high floor, but low ceiling. His defenses will beat up on inferior teams, but teams with equal or better talent or coaching that can out scheme him, and he looks lost.

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