Harbaugh To Blame For Michigan’s Loss to MSU, Wolverine Fans’ Cannibalization Of Punter Blake O’Neill
Lost in the aftermath of Michigan State's incredible win over Michigan this past weekend is one conspicuous item that is almost always talked about ad nauseam when a team loses on such a woeful blunder.
The head coach's culpability.
Now, it comes as no surprise that Michigan fans themselves don't blame Jim Harbaugh for what happened. After all, the dude, to them, embodies every messianic quality imaginable. What is surprising--and disappointing, really--is how the media hasn't at least asked the question whether Harbaugh was to blame for Michigan's mishandling of the punt, let alone suggest he is responsible for the ultimate outcome.
Then again, some of Harbaugh's biggest fans watch him coach from media row in the press box.
But the head coach is the one who gets all the credit when things are going well, and the one who gets all the blame when they don't. The media--local and national--treated Saturday's game as a coronation ceremony for Harbaugh, not a hotly contested rivalry game. Now they've abdicated their duty of asking the tough questions after the fact.
It's obvious to me: Harbaugh is to blame.
Why Harbaugh Is Responsible For The FumBaugh
The fateful play that lifted Michigan State to victory and sent Michigan into agony should ultimately be pinned on Harbaugh. He's the head coach, and his players were not put in a position to succeed.
For some reason, Harbaugh, knowing full well that State was coming for the punt block, left two gunners out wide--one of them completely uncovered. MSU had no one back for the return, meaning 10 guys were at the line of scrimmage. Michigan had eight men on the line to block. You don't need a Ph.D. in math from U-M to know that's not favorable for the kicking team.
Look at that image from right before the snap. Is that a situation you would be comfortable with as a team just trying to punt one last time to seal the victory?
At the very least, the uncovered gunner (seen at the top of the image) should have been shifted in as an added blocker against MSU's mathematically superior rush. Instead, Harbaugh left him out there all alone, meaning Michigan was basically playing that play down a man.
The first mistake Harbaugh made was not sending out a max-protection unit for the punt. Everyone watching the game (except for Harbaugh, apparently) knew the Spartans were coming for the block: State had gone after several punts prior in the game, coming close on two occasions.
Since Harbaugh, ostensibly, didn't anticipate the very predictable punt block attempt that his team was about to face, he should have at least had a contingency plan in place. Specifically, there should have been some sort of alert the Michigan players could shift to and bring in more blockers against the block attempt. This is a very rudimentary thing in football; it's regularly implemented by high school football teams. Why, then, didn't the supposed best coach in football have his team prepared?
Why Harbaugh Is Responsible For Michigan Fans' Vitriol Against Their Own Punter
It's no secret there are some deranged people in the world. And even more prevalent are people who say and do things in the heat of the moment, when emotion overcomes judgment.
So Harbaugh isn't totally to blame for the death threats and other generally hateful things spouted by U-M fans against Wolverines punter Blake O'Neill after the shocking conclusion to Saturday's game. But he is at least partially responsible.
We've already documented how Michigan fans follow Harbaugh and what he says on a damn near dogmatic level. So when he gets in front of the microphones and cameras at his postgame press conference and basically throws O'Neill under the bus for the punt debacle while evading any personal liability, he's helping to shape the narrative that Michigan's loss is all the punter's fault.
And that's when the crazy sets in. You know, the people who think what transpires in a game played by teenagers and young adults is actually about them and rises to the level of threatening violence. Those people, powered by their irrational, unhealthy addiction to Michigan football and emboldened by the gospel of their redeemer, then arrive at the conclusion that O'Neill needs to physically suffer or worse for what happened.
Look, it's not all on Harbaugh. In fact, if he had come out and taken the blame for the unmitigated disaster that was the punt-fumble and protected his player (like a college coach is supposed to do), I'm confident there would still have been some crazed Michigan fans making keyboard threats against O'Neill.
But Harbaugh didn't do that, and you can bet that had a hand in why the reaction was so acerbic.