2020 Michigan State vs Michigan: Takeaways & Highlights

Saturday was a day to forget for a lot of people but also a breaking point. Some are done with the current Michigan coaching regime and ready to make a change.

Now, I wasn’t fully feeling like that following the game. Yes, changes may be necessary and maybe it’s the last 15+ years of devastating losses in me but I first want to see how the rest of the season plays out before putting out another ridiculous hot take out there after everyone and their mother was on the opposite side of the coin just a week ago.

Michigan State 27 – Michigan 24

Here are my takeaways from Michigan’s ugly loss to Michigan State:

1. Welcome Back to Earth

Well, that week between the first and second game was pretty awesome, right? “This might be Jim Harbaugh’s best team”, some said. “Joe Milton for Heisman”, Twitter said. “I like Michigan’s chances at covering a 25-point spread”, I said. Everyone including Vegas and 99.9% of Michigan State fans were expecting Michigan to not only win but win in embarrassing fashion.

Well, it was embarrassing. Just for the wrong team.

Michigan never showed up on Saturday. Not sure if it was the lack of fans, the lack of motivation, lack of preparation, or reading into the hype following the season opener. It can be blamed on several things but most of all, it looked like a coaching staff and team that just weren’t prepared to play a quality opponent.

Dax Hill told the media about how he didn’t expect that many deep passes and instead were focused on the run, Joe Milton didn’t know Antjuan Simmons by name, instead by his number (which I really don’t think is a huge thing but doesn’t look good after a loss).

Then there are the cornerbacks getting beat over the top again and again and again. They were exposed. Some will say that the early game officiating is just an “excuse” but that’s a legit part of why they struggled. Michigan’s corners are like 90’s NHL defensemen. Clutching and grabbing is a big part of their success. So, when the refs start calling it, they lose an edge on the opponent. And boy did it show.

Props to Rocky Lombardi for putting the ball in the right place on just about every damn deep ball. But more props are in order for the MSU receivers. They were catching everything and making the plays necessary to win a rivalry game. Add in that 51-yard field goal and Michigan State did everything they needed to pull off a memorable upset.

Michigan is now 1-1 with a top 25 win and a 25-point favorite upset loss. Next week could be another top 25 win which would be a really strange resume to start this COVID season. But let’s get there first before putting it on the board.

2. Are Changes Necessary?

Is Jim Harbaugh more of the bridge back? The guy who brings the program back to relevance and respect. However, not the guy to get them over that final hump. Maybe that’s his role in all of this. Maybe not and he’ll shock everyone with a win over Ohio State on December 12th.

As unlikely as a win over the Buckeyes at the end of this season is, I believe Jim Harbaugh being fired by Michigan is even more unlikely. There’s no way he’ll just be fired by the University. But with his contract up after next season, this is set up well for both parties to look in the mirror and figure things out over the next 16 months.

But this is far from just a Harbaugh problem.

Though some were yelling he wouldn’t get out of man-coverage, Don Brown actually tried to adapt a bit by moving into a zone to help his young corners but it wasn’t working. Zero pressure on the quarterback from the stud defensive ends and consistently getting gashed with big plays. Same old story.

Whatever was going on, that offense should not have had consistent success against that defense. And that’s on Don Brown. He too will have the rest of the season to prove himself but if these issues continue and/or Ohio State hangs 50+ again, changes will be necessary this offseason.

As for the offense, it all started up front. Ed Warinner’s crew were getting pushed back consistently and were unable to get a consistent run game going at all. And then there were some of Josh Gattis’ play calls. Complete head-scratchers, especially trying to get cute around the goal line. And then there was the end of the game, down two scores, but playing like there was a 5th quarter.

Joe Milton was decent. He showed off that cannon of an arm a whole lot but he’s going to give me a damn heart attack on some of these throws. Bullets into double coverage and first read staring are going to need to be fixed and he acknowledged the moment got to him a bit. But overall, it was a good lesson to learn for the young quarterback.

Gattis and Warinner are going to need to step up as well. Even though “these games don’t matter” during a shortened COVID season, if the offense sputters and the line doesn’t improve, the pitchforks will be coming for them as well.

3. Stock Up

  • Blake Corum
    • Arguably the highlight of the game for Michigan fans was Corum’s first-quarter touchdown run. Showing off that elite burst and balance to get the edge and score on a handoff that looked doomed to be yet another loss of yards. That speed should get him more and more reps. Don’t be surprised if he’s one of the top two guys throughout the season.
  • Roman Wilson
    • Not the best true freshmen receiver on the field on Saturday but did lead Michigan with five catches for 71 yards. He flashed his speed and quickness. Next step is taking the top off the defense, something this offense badly needs.
  • Dax Hill
    • The best player on the defense came back from an injury in the season opener and showed off why he was reported to getting time at cornerback in camp. Well, he may need to move there full time if even more talented teams go with the same air assault game plan.
  • Mel Tucker
    • Credit where credit is due. Though he wasn’t flawless, he took advantage of clear flaws on both sides of the ball and went from “how quickly can he be fired” to “is he better than Dantonio?”. Props to him on a well deserved upset win.

4. Stock Down

  • Offensive Line
    • After a stellar performance against Minnesota, the O-Line struggled mightily against a stronger Spartan line. Holes weren’t getting open, quarterback pressures were coming in left and right. Add in Jalen Mayfield going down with an injury and it was just a bad day for the line.
  • Punting
    • Both Will Hart and Brad Robbins played in this one as Hart handled the distance and Robbins the accuracy. The latter was pretty good, pinning MSU deep multiple times. However, Hart struggled. It was a cold day but only averaging 37.8 yards per punt when Michigan needed to flip the field just wasn’t good enough. Hell, Robbins was punting just around the 50 every time and still average more yards per punt (42.0). The first two weeks of the season have not been pretty.
  • Early Season Hot Takes
    • This goes for after the Minnesota game and after this game. It went from people thinking of National Championships to being “done” with the team. Like stupid preseason polls, maybe we should all just wait to blurt out things based on emotion and small sample sizes. I’m right there with everyone. Thought this team looked different. But looks like we were wrong. Or were we? Let’s let this crazy season play out a bit longer before jumping to any drastic conclusions.

That was easily one of the worst losses of the Harbaugh era. Blowouts are one thing but losing to a bad rival is just plain bad and embarrassing. All eyes go to Saturday at noon as Michigan travels to Indiana for some redemption.

Let me know your thoughts below!

Photo Credit: Bleacher Report

Garrett Fishaw