The Wolverine

December 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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74 THE WOLVERINE DECEMBER 2020 "We need to get this friggin' right. I'm so sick and tired of all this wasted opportunity. ... This isn't Michigan football." D efensive line coach Shaun Nua didn't hold back a few days after Michigan's embarrassing 49‑11 home loss to Wisconsin. His charges had been pushed around up front by the Bad‑ gers' big offensive line, a group that hadn't seen the field in three weeks due to a COVID‑19 outbreak that had canceled its last two Big Ten games. This was the same Wisconsin line that struggled to get push against Illinois in its opener, creating consternation in Badgerland that maybe U‑M would be ripe to handle them. They needn't have worried. For the second straight year, the Badgers linemen owned the trenches on both sides, rushing for 341 yards with an array of backs and receivers on jet sweeps doing the damage. None of them were close to Doak Walker Award‑winning Jonathan Taylor or 1990s All‑American Ron Dayne, and they didn't need to be. The holes were so big that Nua, a 350‑pounder with hands the size of hams, could have gotten through them. "If you're not embarrassed by those numbers [Wisconsin gained] ... ," Nua began. "I can't sleep; can't eat. It's unacceptable. Where the frick is our pride?" He paused. "... That is not Michigan football." But it is this year, and it's a con‑ cern. The Wolverines were without starting ends and potential All‑ Americans Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson, both out with injury, but there was no guarantee their presence would have made a differ‑ ence. Far from it, in fact. The defense had gone two games without a sack, plus the first half against the Badgers, to earn the dubious honor of being the first Big Ten team in 15 years to have zero sacks or turnovers in five consecu‑ tive halves of football. Paye and Hutchinson were part of that before both got hurt at Indiana, and while each had commanded extra attention all year, they're held accountable like their teammates. Their replacements, meanwhile, repeatedly failed to set the edge, al‑ lowing Wisconsin to gain the corner on play after play and leaving their teammates in a bad spot. "As a D‑line, when you get that movement and that sweep motion, you owe it to your teammates to start running," fifth‑year senior de‑ fensive tackle Carlo Kemp said. "We have our corners who go against people and pullers coming at them … that's an entire defensive thing to stop the run. Put your foot in the ground and chase and help every‑ one out by being relentless." It was as close as anyone had come to pointing fingers. Kemp, a captain, had seen enough, as had many Michigan fans who undoubt‑ edly flipped the game off at 28‑0. Many of them, including several former U‑M linemen, took to social media remembering the days the Wolverines were pushing the Bad‑ gers around and embarrassing them, but the roles have been reversed. Wisconsin is now Offensive Line U. and has an identity built on years of continuity, while U‑M head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff are still searching for theirs in year six. But regardless of the schemes on either side of the ball or the personnel trying to run them, there's no excuse for lack of effort and passion. We never thought we'd see it from a Jim Harbaugh‑coached team, but this group has now shown up for three games like third‑ shifters clocking in at a job they didn't like. The deeper the hole gets — and 1‑3 feels like the bottom of the Kali Gandaki Gorge at this point — the tougher it becomes to emerge. "We can make this climb here in the last stretch of the season, which is something we have to do," Kemp said. "But that begins with taking accountability of yourself and not blaming anyone else for mistakes that were made. "A big thing I've been saying is look in the mirror and evaluate and be critical of your performance. You might not want to do it because you don't want to see mistakes, but you have to." If they don't, Harbaugh hinted without calling anybody out specifi‑ cally, there's no place for them. "It's identifying the players who have pride, want to have pride in their own personal performance and want to fight like hell for Michigan," he said. That used to be a foregone conclu‑ sion, but it isn't anymore. That's the bare minimum expectation going forward, regardless of record, and it certainly feels like the fate of Har‑ baugh's Michigan program depends on it. ❑ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS 'This Isn't Michigan Football' After his team dropped to 1-3, head coach Jim Harbaugh said he and his staff must find players that "want to fight like hell for Michigan." PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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