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Jim Harbaugh's Michigan teams keep finding ways to lose big games

November 19,2017 04:32

And yet, he's the head coach, and his teams, at least in these kinds of games, keep finding ways to lose. Iowa and Ohio State and Florida State last year. Michigan State and Wisconsin now. Yes, they are young. And yes, this team deserves to see what it ...and more »

Shawn Windsor, Detroit Free Press Published 4:02 p.m. ET Nov. 18, 2017 | Updated 5:25 p.m. ET Nov. 18, 2017

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Jim Harbaugh recaps Michigan's 24-10 loss to undefeated Wisconsin on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 in Madison, Wis. Nick Baumgardner, Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Free Press columnist Shawn Windsor offers three quick takeaways from Michigan's 24-10 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday in Madison, Wis.:
At some point, Jim Harbaugh needs to win one of these games
Win a game that means something. Win a game against a team when both teams have similar talent.
Maybe that comes next week against Ohio State — not that Michigan's football team has the same level of roster as the Buckeyes.
Though I doubt it. Especially now, with Brandon Peters’ health an uncertainty.
The redshirt freshman quarterback got knocked out of the game Saturday in the third quarter. When he did, the Wolverines seemed to sag, though to be fair to the Badgers, they were already flipping the momentum of the game.
For a while Saturday, U-M looked like the better team, with faster players and a more ferocious defense. Peters looked good, too. The Wolverines just couldn’t take advantage of their opportunities.
It’s hard to blame Harbaugh for a fumble at the goal line. Or for a botched replay — U-M sure looked like they had a touchdown when Donovan Peoples-Jones dragged his foot in the back of the end zone. Peters fumbled the ball away seconds later.
It’s even hard to blame Harbaugh for the strange punt return that gave the Badgers the lead. And yet, he’s the head coach, and his teams, at least in these kinds of games, keep finding ways to lose.
Iowa and Ohio State and Florida State last year. Michigan State and Wisconsin now.
Yes, they are young. And yes, this team deserves to see what it can do as its youth begins to mature. Especially Peters.

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Still, a pattern is emerging. Other teams keep finding ways to make plays. The Wolverines do not.
Despite getting knocked out, Peters has the intangibles
Wisconsin may not have the nastiest pass rush in college football – let alone the Big Ten – but its front seven still generated pressure against the Wolverines. Peters handled it effortlessly. At least most of the time.
Whether hanging in the pocket and progressing through his reads, or slipping out into the flat as the Badgers came rushing, he showed the sort of chill persona that the best pocket passers possess. We’ll never know whether Peters, had he not been knocked out of the game, could’ve led a comeback.
What we do know is that he changes the offense. In his last three games, Peters wasn’t asked to do much more than hand the ball off and make the occasional throw. Against the Badgers, he was asked to do a lot more. Because U-M couldn’t run the ball.

Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters throws during the first half against Wisconsin, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 in Madison, Wis.
 (Photo: Morry Gash, AP)

Peters responded with an 84-yard, second-quarter drive that may have been the Wolverines’ most impressive of the season. It was certainly his. In that drive, it was easy to see why Harbaugh recruited him, and why he finally gave him the starting job a couple weeks ago:
His demeanor.  
U-M’s defense …
Can look dominant for stretches but remains vulnerable to big plays, as you would expect an attacking defense to be.
For almost three quarters Saturday, Wisconsin and its offense didn’t come close to scoring. Its quarterback, Alex Hornibrook, had little time to throw and few open receivers to throw to. U-M’s defense harassed him relentlessly.
Especially Rashan Gary and freshman tackle, Aubrey Solomon, whose combination of size and speed often overwhelmed the Badgers’ beefy, but youngish offensive line.
That changed midway through the third quarter, when Hornibrook dropped back on third-and-13 and hit A.J. Taylor with an over-the-shoulder teardrop for 51 yards. Four plays later, he found Taylor again on a post route in the end zone. Hornibrook squeezed the ball between a cornerback and a safety.
On both plays, U-M’s edge rushers pushed up field enough to force Hornibrook to step into the collapsing pocket. He did. Made two great throws. Give him credit.
The next time Wisconsin got the ball, Hornibrook made another impressive throw down the sideline, hitting Danny Davis on a back-shoulder heave. Davis was blanketed by Brandon Watson.
Penn State made similar plays against U-M, too, finding advantages in the secondary. For as ferocious as this defense can be, it will have to tighten up the backside before it can be truly great.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.
 
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