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Jim Harbaugh vs. Ohio State: A Bomb and a Guarantee

Harbaugh played in The Game twice and walked off victorious both times. He'll look to do the same as head coach of the Wolverines on Saturday.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Harbaugh spent five years in Ann Arbor under the leadership of Bo Schembechler, but he only played twice against the Buckeyes. A redshirt year, a backup year, and an injury-shortened year - a broken arm suffered against Michigan State - meant that Harbaugh spent three years champing at the bit from the sidelines during The Game. He entered the '85 contest as a redshirt junior poised to swing the rivalry back in Michigan's favor after watching Ohio State win two of the three games since he arrived in '82. And he did just that by winning both games, which kicked off the Wolverines taking 12 of 15 against the Buckeyes from '85 to 2000.

1985: A Bomb

#6 Michigan 27, #12 Ohio State 17

Harbaugh's Stats: 16/19 for 230 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 6 carries for 14 yards

Source of gif found here, courtesy of SterlingIncorp

Both teams entered The Game in '85 with a couple of conference blemishes: Michigan lost to the then-ranked #1 Iowa Hawkeyes, who won the Big Ten that year, in Week 6 and tied a mediocre Illinois squad two weeks later; Ohio State fell to Illinois in Week 4 and traveled to Ann Arbor following a 12-7 upset to a bad Wisconsin team.

The Buckeyes won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. Wolverines senior Pat Moons booted the pigskin for Michigan, his first career kickoff after Bo suspended both Mike Gillette and Rick Sutkiewicz for disciplinary reasons. Ohio State probably hoped to score points early against a Michigan defense that had surrendered just three touchdowns on the year and no more than 15 points in a game. However, Michigan back Ivan Hicks snagged a floater thrown by OSU quarterback Jim Karsatos, and the Wolverines took over inside Ohio State's 40-yard line. Moons would end up kicking a 34-yard field goal to give Michigan an early 3-0 lead thanks to some great plays by Harbaugh, such as this pass to Ohio-native John Kolesar:

Source of this gif and all below found here, courtesy of WolverineHistorian

The kick accounted for all the scoring in the first quarter, and the Buckeyes stormed back with a 48-yard field goal to start the second. They added a 2-yard touchdown run by back Keith Byars following a forced fumble by linebacker Chris Spielman to go up 10-3. Harbaugh responded on the next drive by airing a 40-yard pass to tight end Eric Kattus, setting up the Wolverines at Ohio State's 16-yard line. He later escaped a sack to setup a third-and-short inside the 10:

On the next play, Harbaugh bobbled the snap before finding running back Gerald White for a 4-yard touchdown pass, evening the score at 10.

The score remained tied at halftime, but the third quarter was all Wolverines. Moons regained the lead for Michigan with a 38-yard field early in the third quarter, and Harbaugh extended it to 20-10 with this 5-yard pass to an uncovered Kattus in the back of the endzone:

The Buckeyes made things interesting by scoring first in the fourth quarter on a 36-yard jump ball pass to wideout Cris Carter on 4th-and-15. With a narrow lead, Harbaugh responded on the next drive with arguably the biggest play of his career: a 77-yard touchdown bomb to Kolesar:

Ohio State blitzed, Harbaugh stood in the pocket, took a hit, and burned them deep. Following the win, Bo noted that the play "took the starch out of their sails." The 77-yard dagger put the game out of reach, and Michigan's defense shut the door by forcing a pair of Buckeyes fumbles to close the game. Moons missed a field goal along the way, but it didn't matter. The Wolverines ran out the clock, not by taking a knee, but by driving down the field. The last play of the game was a pitch:

Harbaugh played lights out in his first showdown with the Buckeyes, especially when it mattered most: on nine third downs, he completed eight passes, all for scores or first downs. The 77-yard pass to Kolesar ranked as the second-longest pass in team history at the time (it's currently tied for sixth) and he broke Michigan's season records for passing touchdowns (18) and passing yards (1,913) on the day (neither is still in the top ten all-time).

After the game, Bo praised Harbaugh: "He's gonna be a great quarterback, and he was great today."

Game notes gathered from MGoBlue stats archiveMVictorsNew York TimesGainesville SunThe Plain Dealer

1986: A Guarantee

#6 Michigan 26, #7 Ohio State 24

Harbaugh's Stats: 19/29 for 261 yards, 2 interceptions, and 6 carries for 5 yards

Source of this gif and all below found here, courtesy of WolverineHistorian

Heading into this iteration of The Game, Michigan looked to bounce back from an upset at the hands of Minnesota a week prior - erasing any hopes of a national championship - and Ohio State aimed to extend their nine-game winning streak after losing in back-to-back games to start the season. A Buckeyes win would give them the Big Ten championship outright, while a Wolverines victory split the title and would send Michigan to the Rose Bowl. By now, most of you are familiar with what Harbaugh said five days before The Game:

I think we're smart enough to know that there's too much at stake right now. Everything's still out there for us. We can still win the Big Ten championship, we can go to the Rose Bowl, and we will. I guarantee you we'll beat Ohio State and be in Pasadena.

If you haven't read it yet, I suggest you take some time and read this history of Harbaugh and his guarantee over at ESPN. It has too many awesome quotes from former players and coaches and staff members for me to do it any justice by trying to copy some here. However, one sticks out, and it comes from Urban Meyer, who was a graduate assistant for the Buckeyes from 1986-87:

I'll never forget what Schembechler said about Harbaugh's guarantee. He said that Harbaugh only said what the rest of us wanted to say, but he had the guts to say it. That told me how much Schembechler respected the guy.

As for the game, Ohio State fans welcomed Jim with "Harbaugh sucks!" chants, and the team backed them up by racing out the a 14-3 lead in the first half. Cris Carter grabbed a 4-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive, and after a Michigan field goal by Mike Gillette, running back Vince Workman spring 46 yards for Ohio State's second touchdown in as many possessions. Following the quick scores by the Buckeyes, Harbaugh looked to get Michigan back into the game. He aired a pass deep to freshman wideout Greg McMurtry, but he dropped it at the goal line:

Two plays later, Harbaugh tossed a pass behind his intended receiver, and the Buckeyes snagged it. Ohio State did nothing with it, and Gillette added another field goal to bring the score to 14-6. The Wolverines continued to keep the Buckeyes at bay on offense in the second quarter and took over possession with 3:46 remaining in the half. Harbaugh helped lead Michigan down to Ohio State's 8-yard line before throwing his second interception of the day with 45 seconds remaining in the half.

Trailing 14-6, the Wolverines took control of the game in the second half thanks to back Jamie Morris. According to Morris:

One of our coaches saw something from the press box, and he told Bo at halftime that we could run right at them. I'll never forget Bo slapping the blackboard and saying, 'We're going to run it right down their throats!' He looked at me and said, 'Your little ass better get going!' I wanted to smile, but I could only say, 'Yes, sir.'

Morris tallied 210 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries, with both scores opening the second half for Michigan. On his first touchdown, he juked an Ohio State defender out of his shoes after receiving a pitch from Harbaugh on an option:

Then, following a field goal by the Buckeyes, he busted a 52-yard run to put the Wolverines in Ohio State territory before finishing the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run:

Michigan failed a two-point conversion afterwards, due to some pass interference from the Buckeyes:

Which led to Bo freaking out, a familiar site these days:

With their first lead of the day at 19-17, the Wolverines continued to move the ball on offense early in the fourth quarter, driving 85 yards on 8 plays. A 7-yard run by Thomas Wilcher capped the drive with a score for Michigan. Now up 26-17, the Wolverines seemed in control of the game, especially after an interception minutes later setup a field goal. However, the 47-yard attempt by Gillette was blocked and gave the Buckeyes new life. Karsatos found Carter for a 17-yard touchdown less than two minutes later, and just like that, Ohio State trailed 26-24 with 9:42 remaining. Michigan attempted to run out the clock on the ground, but Wilcher coughed up the football with a little over three minutes remaining. The Buckeyes proceeded to drive into Wolverines territory, aided by a facemask penalty that caused Bo to lose it again:

Ohio State stalled at Michigan's 28-yard line and faced a 4th-and-2 with 1:06 remaining. Earle Bruce decided to attempt the kick rather than go for it, giving kicker Matt Frantz another chance at a 40+ yard field goal (he missed a 43-yarder in the second quarter). With the game on the line, Frantz's kick had enough distance but tailed off to the left:

In the aforementioned ESPN article, Frantz comments on preparing for the kick:

I trotted out on the field, set my tee on the ground and looked at my holder, Scott Powell. Then I heard the referee blow his whistle for a timeout. It was a TV timeout, which meant it was an extended timeout. I looked around and saw a hundred thousand people and realized they were focused on me.

Just before the timeout was over, I looked over and saw Bo Schembechler about three-quarters of the way out on the field. He was screaming, "Frantz, you little s---, you're going to miss this kick!" He was going nuts, and his coaches were trying to hold him back. People ask me all the time if icing the kicker works. I tell them, "Well, in my case it did." It was a perfect snap and a perfect hold, but I hooked it a couple of feet left. There's no explanation and no excuse.

The victory proved Harbaugh's guarantee true, cementing his place in Wolverines football lore, as well as making Bo the winningest coach in Michigan football history, surpassing Fielding Yost with 166 wins:

Game notes gathered from MGoBlue stats archiveESPNGainesville SunThe Plain Dealer