By: Will Burchfield
For the second time this season, Jim Harbaugh copped to poor play-calling on offense.
For the first time, it resulted in a Michigan loss.
The Wolverines were held off the board and turned the ball over three times in the final quarter and a half in a 14-10 loss to Michigan State on Saturday night.
Of his team’s offensive performance, Harbaugh said, “There’s just not enough good things.”
Down 14-3 at halftime, Michigan pulled to within four at the 8:09 mark of the third quarter. It was around that point that a storm brought strong winds and heavy rain to the Big House, but the Wolverines kept the ball in the air. The result was three interceptions on three straight possessions by John O’Korn.
Harbaugh was asked about the play-calling at this point in the game and if he felt Michigan should have run the ball more.
“Yeah, you can criticize that. We were trying to run the ball, weren’t getting the first down. We were trying to piece drives together, we really were. We needed to score points,” Harbaugh said.
O’Korn said the rain “was definitely a factor” in terms of his ability to throw. On this third interception, he appeared to lose his grip on the ball, leading to a wild overthrow.
“There was one point when it was a torrential downpour and it was tough to throw the football, but there’s no excuses,” O’Korn said. “You have to do what you’re coached to do and you have to complete the passes that are called.
“It was definitely a factor, but just have to execute the plays that are called regardless of the conditions. We didn’t do that enough tonight.”
Tight end Khalid Hill said there was no combating the rain when it really started coming down.
“Gloves weren’t even helping. We had gloves that you can wear to help you with the rain, but those were drenched by the time you were going on the field,” said Hill.
Michigan’s play-calling, which is a group effort between Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and passing-game coordinator Pep Hamilton, with Harbaugh getting the last say, was stranger still for the fact that they went away from the run exactly when it started working.
Prior to O’Korn’s first interception, Karan Higdon had just ripped off four straight runs of five yards or more. Prior to his second, Higdon had just scurried for a seven-yard gain. O’Korn said he didn’t know what the strategy was in moving away from the run.
“No. I mean, we trust the play calls that are coming in and we have to execute them. I take full ownership for three interceptions that shouldn’t have happened and take full responsibility for this loss,” he said.
Said Hill, “We thought we could beat them deep. We trust the coaches’ play calling, whatever they call. We just have to go out and execute better as a team. Everything’s not on John.”
When the rain was heaviest, midway through the third quarter to early in the fourth, O’Korn completed just one pass in seven attempts. In other words, Michigan State defensive backs caught two more passes than Michigan receivers. O’Korn was visibly frustrated during this stretch.
“Wasn’t upset with any of the calls at all. Just upset with myself,” he said. “You can’t turn the ball over and give them great field position all game and expect to win.”
Michigan also fumbled twice in the first half. They lost the turnover battle 5-0.
“Too many turnovers,” said Harbaugh. “When we got momentum going, we turned it over.”
“The opening drive was good, we get the ball back, start into it again and three plays later we had a fumble. We had a two-minute drive before the half that was materializing and looking like it was going to get points, we stopped ourselves there. And then we had the interceptions,” he said.
Said O-Korn, who will likely be Michigan’s quarterback for the rest of the season with Wilton Speight on the shelf, “I think collectively as a group it just comes down to executing the plays that are called and not turning the ball over. We weren’t able to do either of those tonight.”
“It’s a combination. Tim Drevno and Pep have the greatest share and I’m probably third in line,” he said.
Asked if he holds veto power as the head coach, Harbaugh vacillated before saying, “That’s probably the simplest and best way to explain it. It’s a group effort by our offensive coaching staff, with Tim and Pep having the greatest share of the play calling.”