Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Pete Townshend’s famous words don’t exactly ring true for this Michigan program, as Jim Harbaugh is obviously a much different animal than Brady Hoke.
But on the night Harbaugh was to make his triumphant return to college coaching and restore the championship legacy to his alma mater, his team looked a heck of a lot like the one Hoke left behind.
Just like Hoke’s Wolverines, Harbaugh’s Wolverines were plagued by a turnover-prone quarterback. Just like Hoke’s Wolverines, Harbaugh’s Wolverines were unable to get a running game going. Just like Hoke’s Wolverines, Harbaugh’s Wolverines were upstaged and belittled by Utah, this time in a 24-17 loss in Salt Lake City.
Same as the old boss?
[MORE BIG TEN: Rudock throws three picks, Michigan loses Harbaugh's debut]
While Harbaugh’s cloistered summer camp gave us zero answers, Harbaugh’s public debut gave us few more.
There’ll be a quarterback controversy on Twitter and on message boards and on talk radio, as fans will clamor for the insertion of Shane Morris after Iowa import Jake Rudock threw a trio of interceptions, one returned for a back-breaking touchdown. Rudock overshot speedy wideout Jehu Chesson on two separate occasions, when a pair of well-placed balls would have resulted in touchdowns. Even a touchdown pass to tight end Jake Butt was only hauled in thanks to a brilliant catch in triple coverage. Not much of an upgrade from the inconsistency of Devin Gardner.
The running game was absent without leave, just as it has been the past two seasons. Despite a cadre of talented backs who exited high school with more stars than a group of generals, there was no traction to be gained on the ground Thursday. Michigan gained just 76 yards. De’Veon Smith picked up 47 yards, Ty Isaac went for 12 yards on just four carries and Derrick Green gained one yard on just two carries. Backs failing to live up to their potential and an offensive line failing to prevent the defense from swarming in the backfield are to blame. Sound familiar?
The defense was fine but not consistent enough from drive to drive. Joe Bolden played well, while Jabrill Peppers got off to a rocky start. But mainly Michigan — the winningest program in the history of college football — didn’t have the talent to compete with Utah. Utes quarterback Travis Wilson and running back Devontae Booker were the two best players on the field, not what you’d expect when going up against a program with the powerhouse legacy of Michigan.
[MORE BIG TEN: Gophers defense excellent, but offense sputters in loss to TCU]
Harbaugh’s arrival wasn’t going to fix all that ailed Michigan in a few months, even though the hype machine maybe painted that picture, purposefully or inadvertently. No, instead Harbaugh will require years, years to get the current crop of players fully integrated into what he’s trying to do, years to recruit his own group of guys and develop them, years to get enough wins to earn the right to be considered better than Utah.
Harbaugh is not Hoke, that’s for sure. But the remainder of this season might make some notice a resemblance. There are a lot of things to get ironed out, and the offense is still looking as sour as it did when a headset-less Hoke patrolled the sideline. And, from what we’ve seen in only one game, the team is generally playing much the way it did last season, when it couldn’t win enough games to make a bowl.
In Harbaugh’s first season, perhaps the storyline will be growing pains, perhaps it will be of measured improvement. But while one game shall not define a season, it’s true, too, that one season will not define a career. Harbaugh has much to accomplish, and his track record and pure energy and ability to generate excitement have many believing he can accomplish all that and more.
A championship-caliber team this is not, and much will have to change on the field in order for that designation to change off it. Harbaugh is set on building a champion, but that takes time.
Until then, the Wolverines of 2015 — apart from their spiffy retro road uniforms — might continue to look an awful lot like the Wolverines of 2014.