Harbaugh still seeking meaningful win at Michigan

  • Michigan-Notre-Dame-Football-29

    Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh watches a replay in the first half of Saturday's loss to Notre Dame.


  • SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Next door to the old Basilica and under the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus, Michigan came to this holy football land Saturday hoping to find salvation.

    It will keep looking.

    May we recommend a team of forensic search dogs.

    Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh watches a replay in the first half of Saturday's loss to Notre Dame.
    Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh watches a replay in the first half of Saturday's loss to Notre Dame.

    Shea Patterson could yet prove the Shea-vior, but with the same coach who goes dark when the lights burn brightest, Wolverines fans were subjected to the same old results.

    If Jim Harbaugh’s honeymoon ended last season, the marriage counseling began with Michigan’s 24-17 loss at Notre Dame.

    Turns out, quarterback wasn’t the biggest problem.

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    It is the guy who is now 9-9 in his last 18 games and hasn’t beaten a team with a winning regular-season record in 665 days.

    Sorry for betting on this Michigan team. We should have known better.

    All off-season, we heard about Harbaugh’s big changes. How he looked hard in the mirror. Piped down. Hired a new strength coach. Blew up his offensive staff. Recruited a big-time transfer passer.

    With a top-five defense that returned nine starters and an offense expected to upgrade from a rusted station wagon to, at the least, a Honda Civic, Michigan was headed places.

    As it were, the talk proved enough hot air to send a balloon around the world.

    I hear Europe is nice in the spring.

    In a showdown branded as Catholics vs. Khakis, Michigan looked like a pair of mustard-stained trousers — undisciplined, unprepared, and wholly underwhelming.

    If Michigan deserves credit for keeping this interesting to the end, it was too little, too late. Even the defense missed the memo, allowing opening touchdown drives of 75 and 96 yards and only gaining traction against elusive Irish passer Brandon Wimbush after the Wolverines were down by three scores. 

    As for the offense, it was 2017 replayed on loop, only with a more exciting quarterback.

    Patterson, the Toledo native expected to give Harbaugh his long-lost quarterback answer, was solid in his debut, mixing in some good — including a 52-yard pass to Nico Collins on the first play of the second half — and some not so good, as we saw on the final two possessions. One minute, he’s coming back from a series of cramps to lead a touchdown drive to pull Michigan within seven, the next he’s handing the ball over on a potential game-tying march.

    I believe he is the answer for Michigan.

    My bigger questions remain the supporting cast, mainly the offensive line, which picked up where it left off last year. By picking its quarterback off the ground. Michigan last year ranked 114th nationally in allowing 36 sacks, and although it ceded only three Saturday, it rolled out a red carpet into the backfield for the veteran Irish defense.

    Michigan can roll the pocket and rely on Patterson’s legs as much as it wants, but, ultimately, the guys up front need to block.

    Or else it will be another long autumn for Harbaugh in Ann Arbor.

    Maybe this comes off as a classic Week 1 overreaction. Michigan can still have a great year, with Patterson and the D showing the way. Don’t get me wrong on Harbaugh, either. He is not on the hot seat in the traditional sense, despite what you will hear from the message-board flame throwers this morning.

    But this is a now-or-never season of reckoning to prove he can put up and win when it counts. Harbaugh has had four years to build a team fit to win these kind of games, and we’re still waiting.

    With another rivalry loss — and his fourth straight defeat overall — the coach making $7 million per year also lost all benefit of the doubt. 

    Contact David Briggs at dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.