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Jim Harbaugh’s decisions and results show Michigan isn’t as good as he thinks it is

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, center, reacts looking up at the scoreboard in the second quarter against Army in Ann Arbor, Mich. on Saturday.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, center, reacts looking up at the scoreboard in the second quarter against Army in Ann Arbor, Mich. on Saturday.
(Tony Ding / Associated Press)

Two times during the fourth quarter Saturday, Jim Harbaugh made a decision that indicated he did not understand the difference between the type of team he wants Michigan to be and where the Wolverines actually are in Year 5 of his coaching tenure at his alma mater.

Army had pushed seventh-ranked Michigan to the limit with the same brutal efficiency it employed a year ago at Oklahoma before falling to the Sooners in overtime. The Wolverines should have felt fortunate to be tied at 14 with the Black Knights, given the three fumbles and the inability of quarterback Shea Patterson to show real command of the new Michigan offense that was created with his skills in mind.

Yet, facing fourth and two from the Army 19, Harbaugh did not realize his good fortune and take the 36-yard field goal for Michigan’s first lead of the game. He asked a running game that averaged less than three yards per rush on the day to make him feel like these were the good old days at the Big House, when the tough yards were inevitably Michigan’s to be had. Army mobbed Michigan freshman Zach Charbonnet in the backfield, a result Harbaugh easily should have predicted and avoided.

Later, with less than three minutes left, Harbaugh had another fourth-and-two call to make, this time from the Army 43. Instead of pinning Army’s triple-option attack deep and setting up his defense with good field position to get the ball back and at the very least get to overtime, Harbaugh again decided to go for it. Michigan dialed Charbonnet’s number, and again, the former Oaks Christian standout was stuffed.

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Harbaugh’s stubbornness, even confronted with what should have been mounting evidence that this was not a day for bold statements about his team’s backbone, nearly cost Michigan the game and all the good vibes his fan base has been able to muster entering this season with an 0-4 record against Ohio State.

Army missed a 50-yard field goal as the clock ran out in regulation, giving Michigan a second life it didn’t deserve.

Unranked Army forces No. 7 Michigan into double overtime, but the Wolverines win 24-21; No. 6 LSU outlasts No. 9 Texas 45-38

The Wolverines won 24-21 in the second overtime thanks to a gritty effort from an exhausted defense. They won despite their $7.5-million coach.

Another fall is here, and it’s Same Old Michigan, no matter how much the Wolverines try to change.

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Harbaugh finally relinquished play-calling to new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, whom he brought in from Alabama, where Gattis coached the wide receivers during the Crimson Tide’s tactical revolution last year.

Michigan had 340 yards of offense against Army.

There are reasons why the Wolverines haven’t taken off yet in Gattis’ spread attack, which is supposed to take what the defense gives instead of blindly pounding away into a wall, which is what a good portion of Harbaugh‘s offense has looked like in Ann Arbor.

First, Army should be given credit for how tough this was for Michigan. The Black Knights, their ball-control offense sucking up so much game clock, make every possession extra weighty for the opposing offense. When a team fumbles the ball to Army as Michigan did three times, it is asking to find itself in a fourth-quarter brawl.

Plus, Patterson, the hyped Mississippi transfer who led Michigan to a 10-3 season last year, was hurt in the opener and playing with an injured oblique. He was often inaccurate and indecisive, and Gattis tightened up the playbook as the game went on.

Saturday, Michigan ran plenty of read-option with Patterson and Charbonnet — who saved the Wolverines with 33 carries for 100 yards and three touchdowns — but was unwilling to have Patterson keep the ball. That made it easy for Army to key on Charbonnet.

In what has become a trend, Harbaugh made it even harder for Michigan. In Year 5, the Wolverines are supposed to be competing with Ohio State for a spot in the College Football Playoff. As it stands, Michigan runs the risk of being blown out of its next game Sept. 21 at Wisconsin.

This is the definition of a well-placed bye week, for the injured players and the program. A win Saturday kept fan desperation from settling in, but Harbaugh gets paid to know better than to feel relieved. The pain is coming.

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Ohio State, with its new coach Ryan Day and new quarterback Justin Fields, demolished a solid Cincinnati team 42-0 down the road in Columbus.

Michigan, with its returning coach and returning senior quarterback, is the team that should be glad it’s only September.

Clemson’s cakewalk

It was no surprise that No. 1 Clemson easily handled No. 12 Texas A&M, 24-10, on Saturday. Given the machine that Dabo Swinney has built in winning two of the last three national championships, it was almost expected that the Tigers would lose three defensive linemen to the first round of the NFL draft and still hold the Aggies to 289 total yards.

But there was hope — albeit misplaced — that the Atlantic Coast Conference would have some teams that could sneak up on Clemson as the season evolved.

Nope.

Two games in, go ahead and pencil Clemson into the CFP as the ACC champion. Nobody is beating these guys until Christmas has passed.

No. 21 Syracuse, which hosts Clemson next Saturday in what was supposed to be the best chance for a conference upset, lost to Maryland 63-20 Saturday.

Atlantic Division rival Florida State, which fell apart last week in a 36-31 loss to Boise State, needed overtime and a missed extra point to beat Louisiana-Monroe 45-44 in Tallahassee.

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Miami, a threat in name only, is now 0-2 after a 28-25 loss at North Carolina.

Nebraska nosedives; Colorado gives Pac-12 a jolt

Nebraska, a popular pick to win the Big Ten West, led Colorado 17-0 at halftime. Then, some Folsom Field magic appeared, reminiscent of the Big Eight Conference days when the Buffaloes and Cornhuskers battled for the league crown every year from 1988-95.

Colorado dominated the second half and got first-year head coach Mel Tucker a massive win, 34-31 in overtime.

Nebraska provided hints of being overrated with a tighter-than-expected 35-21 opening win over South Alabama.

Colorado gave hints of being underrated with a 52-31 win over Colorado State in Denver.

Saturday confirmed week one’s signs. Both programs are capable of a bowl game but aren’t likely to win their respective divisions in their conferences.

Maryland sends a message

The Maryland Terrapins have done this before, notching an impressive early-season win only to come back to reality as fall progresses.

But, gosh, the 63-20 walloping of No. 21 Syracuse on Saturday has to be taken seriously, right?

Maryland, in just its second game under new coach Mike Locksley, the former Alabama offensive coordinator, put up 650 yards of total offense.

The Big Ten East is tough with Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State, but the Terrapins may be able to pull an upset or two with Virginia Tech transfer quarterback Josh Jackson playing this well in Locksley’s scheme.

Hilinski shines in debut

It was just Charleston Southern, but that didn’t matter to the Hilinski family on Saturday.

Ryan Hilinski, the Orange Lutheran product, started his first game at quarterback for South Carolina. In a 72-10 win, he completed 24 of 30 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a score.

Hilinski is the younger brother of Tyler Hilinski, the former Washington State quarterback who took his life in January 2018.

Ryan, a freshman, started because of a foot injury to senior Jake Bentley sustained during last weekend’s loss to North Carolina. Bentley could be out for the season.

Next up for Hilinski? Alabama visits South Carolina in a nationally televised CBS game.


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