For the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era, the Michigan Wolverines are Big Ten Champions. The team, carried by their defense, dominated the Iowa Hawkeyes 42-3 and are in prime position to be the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff.
Jim Harbaugh came into Ann Arbor in 2015 with these sky-high expectations of beating Ohio State, of winning Big Ten Championships, and maybe even a National Championship or two. He had troubles in the big games, especially on the road. and against the program’s archrival and it was well documented. In fact, it was thrown in his face every single season that he failed. Every single one.
Harbaugh was on the “hot seat” despite getting a contract extension and taking a significant pay cut. Many fans lost their confidence and their hope that something like what happened on Saturday would ever happen with Harbaugh as the program’s leader.
This season was different. Michigan didn’t receive the typical Harbaugh hype. They weren’t even ranked. Experts and analysts projected a .500 season after a disastrous, COVID-shortened, 2-4 2020 season. Michigan had no chance at beating Ohio State and no chance at winning a Big Ten Championship. Or at least that’s what the media wanted you to think.
But, Jim Harbaugh took it. He heard all of the hate, doubt, and disgust that seemingly everyone had for him. And for all the stats and records that everyone brought up to use against him, now he has one to throw back at them; 1-0.
Michigan is now 1-0 under Jim Harbaugh in the Big Ten Championship Game and this team could just be getting started. In a year of firsts for Harbaugh and the Michigan program, the Wolverines will make their first College Football Playoff appearance and will have a real shot at a National Championship.
Harbaugh did it his way with the help of some of the best assistant coaches in the country. Mike Macdonald revolutionized the defense and for as pass happy as Josh Gattis was in his first season as offensive coordinator, running the football was the identity of this offense in 2021. They both shined in this game and during this season.
Gattis helped dial up some big plays in the first half on Saturday’s game. Those big plays saved what was a rather mediocre first half of football for the Michigan Wolverines’ offense. Cade McNamara was just a little off to start this game and Iowa’s defense made it really difficult to move the ball on the ground. Forcing McNamara to throw the ball under a lot of heat was the Hawkeyes’ strategy in this game. It seemed like every passing down they were bringing the house, and it was causing overthrows and off timing from the Michigan quarterback to his receivers. It led to an Iowa interception that could have changed the tone of the first half.
Thankfully, a not completely healthy Blake Corum saved the day, breaking free for this long touchdown on the second drive of the game:
He's healthy.@blake_corum just took it 67 yards to give No. 2 @UMichFootball the early lead in the #B1GFCG. pic.twitter.com/duy5gwm6M0— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) December 5, 2021
The very next play for the Michigan offense on the following possession was a house call as well. Cade McNamara threw what looked like a screen pass to Donovan Edwards, a play that Gattis has called probably 20 times this season. But, this time was a little different. Roman Wilson wasn’t just clearing out, he was streaking down the field and was WIDE OPEN. Edwards tossed it to him a good 45 air yards on the right sideline and the trickeration resulted in a quick 14-3 lead for Michigan.
TRICKERATION #B1GFCG pic.twitter.com/zPXxv0lakQ— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) December 5, 2021
The two plays above accounted for 142 of the 253 yards the Wolverines had in the first half. On the ground, Haskins and Edwards were a combine 6 carries for 11 yards to open this one up. Something would have to change on the offensive side in the second half to get this team rolling.
Per usual, the defense did what they have been best at all year: bend, but don’t break. Iowa got all the way into their redzone on their first drive of the half, but David Ojabo blew up a Tyler Goodson outside run, and then the Hawkeyes missed the field goal.
A couple of drives later, Iowa marched down the field, again. Spencer Petras was picking on Josh Ross in coverage and picking up some pivotal third downs on the drive. But, the Hawkeyes stalled inside the 10-yard line and this time converted on a field goal to get on the board.
After the McNamara interception, Iowa was in a prime position to get back into this game. Especially because a Taylor Upshaw penalty moved the sticks after Michigan would have forced a three-and-out. But, a tripping penalty on LG Mason Richman put the Hawkeyes behind the chains and Kirk Ferentz played it safe trying to pin the Wolverines’ offense deep.
The rest of the half was just a position battle as both teams traded punts and Ferentz was reluctant to go for it with the Michigan offense being so stagnant. Seven straight possessions down the stretch were punts after drives of 8 plays or less for either squad. It turned into the defensive battle that many were expecting from these two teams.
Michigan’s offense began to take shape in their first drive of the second half. They went 10-plays and 82-yards down the field with some solid runs from Haskins and some darts from McNamara on a couple of 2nd and longs. On a drive that ate up five minutes of game time, Michigan took a commanding 21-3 lead on an untouched touchdown run by Haskins to the right pilon.
Michigan is RUNNING AWAY with this thing pic.twitter.com/kv7phxTEbE— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) December 5, 2021
Iowa came out of the half and their offense still had its issues. Petras was just 9-of-22 for 137 yards and the Hawkeyes couldn’t move the ball in the air. So, they went to backup Alex Padilla who had started a few games this season. He was firing for the team and went 6-for-7 on his first drive with some momentum shifting to Iowa.
However, the Michigan defense was just good enough, yet again. In desperation, Iowa went for it on 4th down as Padilla rolled out right and was hit by the Wolverines’ pass rush. He completed a ball at the line of scrimmage and it would be held way short of the endzone. Three redzone drives were allowed through three quarters by the Michigan defense, and Iowa had only 3 points to show for it.
Then, the special teams unit added to the fun as Cornelius Johnson blocked a punt on the next Iowa possession. It took just 4 plays for Michigan to punch it in for Haskins’ second touchdown of the second half. The Wolverines were starting to pull away with a 28-3 advantage.
Iowa’s offense just couldn’t get things rolling against the stout Michigan defense and the offense wasn’t letting up. A flea-flicker from McNamara-Haskins-McNamara-Erick All picked up 38 yards. Later on the same drive, All made up for the drop-turned-interception with a fantastic one-handed grab:
ALL HANDS TEAM— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) December 5, 2021
Erick All makes it 35-3 for @UMichFootball pic.twitter.com/R43J3KlLby
The Wolverines unloaded their bench and Caden Kolesar wound up with an interception to really seal this thing. The defense held Iowa to only 275 yards and just 100 on the ground. Meanwhile, the offense rolled in the second half to put an exclamation mark on this one. They’d finish with 461 yards and 42 points in the biggest game of the Harbaugh era.
Those who stay will be champions. It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine. Who’s got it better than us? For so long those words have been said but have felt somewhat empty. Now, they all reign true. The Michigan Wolverines are Big Ten Champions and could be on their way to much more. A special team. A special season continues.