The Unfortunate Pivot Point

Submitted by M Ascending on January 9th, 2018 at 7:59 AM

Now that the season is officially over I sat down this morning to review and ruminate over the first three years of the Harbaugh regime.  After twisting things around various ways in my head, I came upon what I call the Unfortunate Pivot Point.  The Pivot Point may seem obvious to many, but just how significant it is has been was not so self-evident.

In his first two seasons, leading up to last year's Iowa game, Harbaugh's record was 19-3, in contention for the CFP, with a 3 and 3 record against OSU, MSU, and PSU -- that record should have been 4 and 2, but for the FUBAR punt against Staee -- and a dominating bowl win over Florida.

Beginning with last year's Iowa game, Michigan's record is 9 and 8 -- repeat 9 AND 8 -- including 0 and 4 against the big three rivals, and two bowl game losses.  This is incredible to me.  Did anyone think it imaginable that in his third year at the helm Harbaugh would post numbers like this?  

This is not intended as a direct criticism of Harbaugh.  But I am looking for thoughts to explain what has happened since the Pivot Point game?  Could Speight's injury against Iowa be the main or sole reason we have been so bad since that game?  Yes, we all know about the struggles at QB and OL.  But, how can a team with one of the top three defenses in the country be so damn mediocre for that long a stretch?  It just seems that something snapped after the Iowa game and I'm not sure what it was.  Thoughts and comments are welcome.




January 9th, 2018 at 8:08 AM ^

If you take the record for a bad season, and then cherry pick the most difficult games from the prior season, the overall record is not good. Shocker.

M Ascending

January 9th, 2018 at 8:49 AM ^

True.  But we also gave up second half (and even late fourth quarter) leads in 6 of the 8 losses.  Perhaps it's the inability to close games that is the problem.  Maybe the new S&C coach will help solve the problem  -- although I think less conservative play calling with the lead would do a lot more good.


January 9th, 2018 at 9:12 AM ^

And Georgia gave up a 13-0 halftime lead and domination to a team that switched to their rookie backup QB. And Georgia lost on a blown coverage with the game in hand if they just rolaubsolid defense for two more downs. Those were elite players blowing it, because they are college kids. And Jalen Hurts was 25-2 and benched. The point: good college players and even great college teams are followed with mistakes. Saban’s teams make less mistakes than other teams. The talent gap is not there, and the coach gap is small.

The point: do not make the same mistake over and over. With all the talent, a fundamentally sound team will win more than others. And, get lucky, too, having bad refs on your side at key moments.


January 9th, 2018 at 10:28 AM ^

Last night's game was a great example of randomness.  Alabama benefited greatly by two turnovers that were primarily luck: the first pick where the ball floated into the Alabama player's chest, and the second where the ball popped into the air and a DL grabbed it.  On the first someone is bound to scream "MAEK PLAYS" but in most cases the ball bounces away harmlessly.  In the second, it was total luck - several balls bounced around when Alabama was on offense, but none careened right to a defender.  

In contrast, Alabama threw an interception on a hilariously bad display of coaching/execution - the WR's were blocking, the QB and line were passing.  Good interception on by good defense. 

Also the blocked punt, an example of poor officiating hurting a team tremendously.  Call that play correct and it changes the entire game.  MAEK PLAYS is a lazy response to these events. 


January 9th, 2018 at 10:48 AM ^

I used to think some teams were just 'lucky'...and OSU was a prime example. Then the longer i watched football, the more I started to see, maybe it's not as random or lucky as you might think. SURE now and again just crazy stuff happens type of luck can swing a play. Then I started thinking and seeing, maybe it's not as much luck as schemes forcing a play, or forcing interceptions to happen, or fumbles to happen from a strategy point. South Carolina was noted for fumble ratios and late in our game started turning up the heat in taking the ball away.

Likewise, when you simply have outstanding athletes, luck seems more common. Woodson made a one handed interception for the ages, was it luck or just super human perception and athletic ability? i am not writing luck off completely...but there comes a point when do you make your own luck, when do teams minimize risks, and thus minimize luck? I THINK Michigan is heading in the right direction, I think it will take at least five years to completely turn that corner, just hope everyone is patient enough for the outcome without running Harbaugh out of Ann Arbor. Losing him will do more harm than good right now.


January 9th, 2018 at 1:40 PM ^

I didn't think that was a false start, but the point is it easily could have been let go. A call or no call can change the game entirely. So you're proving my point: call the 2 or 3 PI's against OSU last year correctly, which came on critical third downs, and the game changes. But the real test is if you took Michigan's PI penalties - which I thought were legitimate and correct - away and then called the ones against OSU. That would be a 4-5 call swing, and that's what OSU benefitted from.

Even granting your point in the NC game, the interceptions were random luck and changed the game entirely. Against two evenly matched teams that can make the difference.


January 9th, 2018 at 2:04 PM ^

Setting aside the fact it wasnt offsides, saying that that play had no bearing on the game is ridiculous. Instead of getting a momentum changing play that gives them the ball inside the opponents 30 and a chance to score, they ended up with a nice JK Scott punt to put them in the middle of their side of the field and they went three and out. Its possibly 3 points at worst to a TD, instead they punted it back to Bama. 


January 9th, 2018 at 12:57 PM ^

Pretty hard to get the offense dialed in when u can’t get any momentum with play calling. Being one dimensional sucks. It allows people to T-off on the running game because they know u can’t beat them over the top. Can’t pass pro.

The O-LINE HAS TO GET FIXED. Or, we may need to drastically tweak play calling. Maybe this is where a creative QB with playmaking ability comes in....

A baker-mayfield type. Can I get a Shea Patterson please?

I dunno tho. Seems like we need to simplify things for our younger QBs. I’ve never seen them look SO LOST as I did this last year. Kind of sad.


January 9th, 2018 at 1:00 PM ^

Yes, our passing game sucked.  You accurately pointed that out, but also said it was "play calling."

Why would we keep calling plays that we know are likely to fail?  How do you fix that with "play calling?"


January 9th, 2018 at 9:20 AM ^

That may be true but I really hate the constant narrative of “a couple of plays here and there and we would have won all those”. Yeah, but we didn’t. And most games in sports are defined by a few plays. Over the years we have won plenty we could have lost if some plays here or there were different.


January 9th, 2018 at 10:36 AM ^

Starting with the premise that QB is the single most important position on the field...


In how many games since Iowa has Michigan been the team with the superior QB? And part of that does fall on Harbaugh, but for Meyer & Saban & Dantonio who've been around a lot longer, they can miss on a QB every now and then and have the depth. Harbaugh in years 1-2 didn't have that flexibility. 


Speight was a 3* recruited by the previous coaching staff. Once he went down, Harbaugh had a RS freshman and a backup QB from the AAC.


Assuming Patterson is cleared for next season, Michigan may go into more games with an advantage at QB instead of playing at a disadvantage from the start.


January 9th, 2018 at 12:44 PM ^

I thought with JMF Harbaugh we'd NEVER have to worry about the QB position again, because he's a guru, & a whisperer, blah blah blah.

Even generic 3* will at least be coached up to servicable/game manager types.

Then it was "not HIS QBs"  
& then it's "healthy QBs".  
or is it
"HIS healthy QB"? or is it
"His 5* heathy QB's that don't inexplicably suck for some reason"?

Young recievers and shaking O-line aren't helping any, but only a high-paid professional staff could have forseen those issues creeping up. . .

It's amazing to me how only Michigan has all these excuses?  The MSUs & the Iowa's of the world seem to pull themselves up as the season progresses.  Michigan?  Not so much.

Patterson will fix everything though so it's all good.


January 9th, 2018 at 2:22 PM ^

That just because someone is a QB guru, that means they can teach anyone to be an elite quarterback in college football.

Again being a season that was pointed to as our down year ... before Harbaugh took over ... I don't see the huge issue with 8-5.

I totally expect us to get better the next several years, it's no blank check.  But it is what was realisticly expected this year.  Harbaugh can't go back and re-recruit the 2013, 2014 and 2015 years before he took over


January 9th, 2018 at 4:00 PM ^

My only issue on the QB thing is this.

Speight: okay, he's who you had based on the prior coaches..

O'Korn: okay, he was one more bullet to add who was available.

Peters: okay, first recruting class, it was the best he could get and maybe will not pan out.

McCaffery: supposed to be the answer.

Okay, then why not play him this year when it was blindingly obvious from the MSU game on that Speight wasn't going to heal, O'Korn had issues, and Peters was not where you wanted him to be.

Many other teams play their freshman. Why not give McCaffery a chance to help this team win? If McCaffery is worse than Peters & O'Korn then you have to ask the question, what is so frickin hard about Michigan's offense that a freshman (even guys multi years in the system) can't function in it. What we saw from three QB's this year was not just poor play, but basically ineptness.

If your first three options were that bad, either as a coach you are doing something drastically wrong, or give the next guy a chance.


January 9th, 2018 at 9:45 PM ^

There are Freshman, RS Freshman, and Sophomores starting at many schools. Many of them big time programs. The idea that all of your players need 3 to 4 years to develop is very old thinking. That is not how it works anymore. Harbaugh even believes so. Look at the number of first and second year players littered throughout the starters this year. Evans, McKeon, Long, Hill, Nordin, Solomon, Ruiz, Bush, Gary, DPJ, Black, Collins, Mason, Robbins. That’s just off the top of my head, I’m sure there are others. Why not McCaffery?


January 9th, 2018 at 8:08 AM ^


Did anyone think it imaginable that in his third year at the helm Harbaugh would post numbers like this?


Given most preseason projections were 9-3 with some 8-4 in there, yes. This past year was disappointing - mostly because the offense was so bad. Harbaugh only underperformed relative to expectations slightly. The MSU and South Carolina games were bad, but otherwise most people picked us to lose @PSU, @Wisconsin, and vs OSU.

I don't think the train has derailed or anything yet. Tua completed more TD passes last night than O'Korn did all season. That's the issue.


January 9th, 2018 at 8:23 AM ^

We were projecting 9-3 / 8-4 with Wilton Speight at QB.  Nobody was speculating where we'd wind up if we had to fall back on our 3rd string QB.  I mean, if you went through the preseason list of areas where Michigan could least afford injuries, we got popped in each of them.  That's unlucky and also speaks to the depth issue we've been dealing with as a result of the end of the Hoke tenure.


January 9th, 2018 at 11:02 AM ^

I said the year after that.

What's tiring are the people who don't actually examine the reality of our situation and expect to win as if somehow they are entitled to that.

OSU and Bama both have five full rolling classes on every team every year with top five classes.

There is no virtue in ignoring that reality and just criticizing


January 9th, 2018 at 8:48 AM ^

Personally, I hate the 9-3 or 8-4 argument because it doesn't offer any context.  In my mind, not all losses are the same (even though the count the same in the final tally).  Sure it's easy to look at a schedule and pick projected wins, losses and toss ups.  People projecting four losses last year were thinking about Florida, Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State.  Once Michigan beat Florida (smoked them actually), the basement should have moved to three losses.

If you're JMFH coaching at Michigan, you can't loss every single game against good competition.  In 2016, Michigan lost three games by a total of five points.  They were competitive in every game.  Not ideal, but easily explainable.

In 2017, they lost five games by 65 points.  All but Michigan State (a projected "win" before the season) and South Carolina (a projected "win" going in to the bowl game) were by double digits.  They had second half leads in all three of the final games (Wisconsin, Ohio State and South Carolina).....and still managed to lose them all.  I'm sure that it's not coincidental that they had second half leads in all three 2016 losses as well.

People are obviously going to play the QB card here, but the fact remains that last night's NC game featured two true freshmen and a RS freshman QB.  Those players are out there.  It's not unreasonable to ask for Michigan to have responsible QB play in year 3 (through recruiting or development or grad transfer).

This is not intended to be a slam of the program (or JH), just my observation of the 2017 season (and late 2016 for that matter).




January 9th, 2018 at 8:54 AM ^

I don't disagree here. Harbaugh's teams have a tendency to blow 2nd half leads. I think it's important to mention that we did go down to our 3rd string QB, but none of the QBs looked particularly inspiring at all, which is very concerning at this point. The loss of our top WR hurt as well.

It makes me nervous that we have to put basically all of our eggs in the Shea Patterson basket, and he's not even cleared for next year yet.



January 9th, 2018 at 9:14 AM ^

In addition to blowing 2nd half leads Michigan has faultered down the stretch in each of the last two seasons.  The defense faultered in 2015 down the stretch, as well.

I have to think this played a role in Harbaugh wanting to change the strength and conditioning program.  

I understand the different reasoning behind the faultering - tougher scheduling, injuries - but collectively, it definitely starts to look like a trend.


January 9th, 2018 at 1:37 PM ^

That's going to be an issue particularly for younger players who haven't spent as many years in strength and conditioning programs as the upper classmen.

I agree with you though that Harbaugh did see it as an issue of course though since as you accurately point out he changed the strength and conditioning coach after saying we need to get stronger.

Just saying there are multiple factors


January 9th, 2018 at 1:25 PM ^

The Oline part is the baffling part to me. It’s seems to be the perfect storm for lack of progress.

Empty cupboard.

Changing offenses.

Coaching turnovers.

Recruiting failures.


Jeeze. Need to buy a break here.

Even if Patterson is the answer...can he stay healthy behind our Oline?

I don’t know about that right now.


January 9th, 2018 at 1:34 PM ^

We did sign Ruiz, Filiaga, Stuber and Honniford last year and Hayes and Mayfield this year.  And Hudson is going to the O-line.

With Hamilton, it's really hard to hate on a kid who gets into Stanford with a free ride.

Newsome was just an unfortunate thing.  We'd be a lot better off with him for sure.

It's unfortunate Bradeson was pressed into service as early as he was rather than spending a year in the weight room and practice field.  He's not been all bad, hopefully he starts to turn the corner now that he's going into his junior year.

I don't think the cupboard is as bare as you do.  But I do agree that overall our recruiting hasn't been as effective on the o-line as it has been at most other positions.

Also, if Ja'raymond Hall saw playing time in his future, I think he'd have stayed.  He doesn't see the cupboard as bare either.


January 9th, 2018 at 11:14 AM ^

Let's take it a step further: Tua was a backup QB for the entire season minus the second half last night. He threw the ball 77 times all season. He had more TD passes (11) this season than our entire team combined (9). And our QBs threw the ball 346 times.

Pepto Bismol

January 9th, 2018 at 9:11 AM ^

Maybe it's unfair to Hamilton since I'm just guessing, but 2015 offense progressed and got better all year long. 2016 offense was even better statistically. The Iowa game was brutal, but they were good enough in every other game.

*exit Fisch/enter Pep*

2017 offense was an unmitigated shit show that got 2 QBs killed and arguably looked worse every game. The greatest success this season was a 3-game stretch when we ditched the pass completely, reverted to power running and dominated cupcakes.


January 9th, 2018 at 10:27 AM ^

"2015 offense progressed and got better all year long. 2016 offense was even better statistically."



2015: #38 S&P+ Offense

2016: #40 S&P+ Offense


I think a more accurate assesment is "2016 offense ran it up on bad teams more"



Pepto Bismol

January 9th, 2018 at 11:26 AM ^

Seriously?  Does that have anything to do with my point?  Was 2017 a monumental step backward from 2015 & 2016, or no?  You agree it was?  Then who gives a rat's ass about your incremental argument about 15 vs. 16?  Other than me, who will defend my post against this kind of nonsense.

2016 Michigan Offense exceeded '15 in yards rushing, total yards, as well as TDs and cut down on turnovers.  They were statistically better almost across the board. 

S&P+ ranks the offense amongst the rest of the college offenses.  Going from 38th to 40th doesn't mean they were statistically worse, it means they were two spots lower in comparison to the rest of the NCAA.  And I don't care about what the rest of the NCAA did, I'm talking about Michigan - who was statistically better. 

Michigan's 2015 Offensive S&P+ score was 33.1

Michigan's 2016 Offensive S&P+ score was 33.8

(middle finger)