The 2019 preseason hype for Michigan and its chances of winning the Big Ten championship reached a crescendo after head coach Jim Harbaugh brought in former Alabama offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, a one-time Penn State assistant, to replace the Wolverines’ more traditional offense with a no-huddle spread attack.
However, six games into the season, the 16th-ranked Wolverines continue to struggle with moving the football against quality opponents, another one of which comes up in Saturday night’s White Out game at No. 7 Penn State.
Michigan (5-1, 3-1 Big Ten) is in the bottom half of the conference in most offensive categories including scoring (eighth), rushing yards (eighth), total offense (10th), third-down efficiency (11th) and red zone scoring (10th). The Wolverines have lost nine fumbles, and only one team in FBS has lost more.
Harbaugh, however, is unwavering in his support of, and confidence in, the offense. His team rolled up season highs of 295 rushing yards and 489 total yards in Saturday’s 42-25 win at Illinois, which dropped to 0-3 in the Big Ten. He said his players are becoming more comfortable with the offense.
“I think you could easily relate it to your profession, anybody’s profession, time on task,” Harbaugh said Monday at his weekly news conference. “You gain confidence by practicing something, preparing for something, doing it with repetition and then doing it in a game setting, your confidence will grow.”
Michigan’s two marquee matchups to date have been embarrassing for the offense. The Wolverines went down 28-0 at halftime to Wisconsin with just 96 total yards and went on to lose 35-14 on Sept. 21. Two weeks later, they defeated Iowa 10-3 but did not score in the final three quarters and gained just 267 yards.
Harbaugh has faith in Gaddis, who coached on James Franklin’s staff at Vanderbilt before coming with him in 2014 to Penn State, where he coached the wide receivers. Gaddis left for Alabama after the 2017 season.
“His track record of success was in developing players and offensive innovation, and the kind of coach and teacher that he is, is what I’ve always been impressed with,” Harbaugh said. “Now, getting to work with him, all those things have been validated and he’s a tremendous coach at the highest level, in my opinion.”
Harbaugh described Gaddis’ offense as “a spread system with West Coast passing emphasis, no-huddle and multiple and various running schemes as well.”
As for the Nittany Lions, Harbaugh praised quarterback Sean Clifford, saying he has “a really intense focus that all the really good ones have.
“He understands the game,” he said. “He plays it. He’s highly competitive, you can see it in his runs, just in his nature, how he plays the game, and very talented. He’s got athletic ability, he’s got arm talent, and also makes really good decisions.”
Harbaugh likes the progress his team is making but says it all has to come together this week.
“We’re going to have to play our best, the best that we’re capable of,” he said. “Penn State is a heck of a good football team.”