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Michigan grinds out Big Ten Championship win and asserts itself as nation’s best

Michigan accomplished its goal and sits in an excellent spot heading into the College Football Playoff.

2023 Big Ten Championship - Iowa v Michigan Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

When the matchup for this year’s Big Ten Championship was finally set following Michigan’s win over Ohio State, it wasn’t hard to picture how the game might play out. You could see in your head a good old fashioned Big Ten rock fight where defenses dominate and offenses look, well, offensive. That’s exactly what we got on Saturday night.

Fortunately, Michigan came out on the winning side, defeating Iowa, 26-0, en route to a third consecutive Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance.

“Glorious defensive performance, just tremendous, lights out,” said Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh following the victory.

The defense was lights out indeed. While it might not take much to hold down the Hawkeye offense, Michigan never gave an inch, holding Iowa to a mere 155 total yards and forcing three turnovers.

This was the type of defensive clinic we’ve seen Michigan put on for much of the season, as the Wolverines entered Saturday’s game with the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense. However, there was never a real threat or fear of ball movement for Iowa. This was total domination from start to finish.

The Hawkeyes did have one glimmer of hope, however. In the second quarter, after Iowa’s defense (who was excellent in its own right) forced an errant Tommy Doman punt, the Hawkeyes were set up with a short field at Michigan’s 38-yard line. However, the drive would quickly end after star defensive back Mike Sainristil forced a fumble. Defensive tackle Kris Jenkins recovered the ball to get Michigan’s offense back on the field.

“When the magic needs to happen, Mike makes it happen,” said Harbaugh of Sainristil.

Sainristil has been a stalwart for Michigan’s defense all season, and has been Michigan’s “Johnny on the spot,” routinely making big hits and getting his hands on the football, as evidenced by his five interceptions this year.

“A superior athlete and a guy who does everything right,” Harbaugh would add.

Defense was the story, but the offense still did enough to get the job done against Iowa’s rugged defense. The Hawkeyes flew around all night to make life difficult for Michigan’s pass catchers and offensive line, but Michigan was able to grind it out nonetheless.

“It was another gritty (performance) by our offense,” said Harbaugh.

Gritty performances are what Michigan fans have gotten used to over the last few weeks, as the Wolverines have faced three of the nation’s best defenses in their last four games. The offense was aided in part by the special teams unit, which Harbaugh also gave credit to after the game.

Overall, the Wolverines can be satisfied they’ve made it to this point. There’s no team in the nation that’s been under the microscope more in recent weeks, but despite the outside noise and facing the toughest part of its schedule, Michigan managed to get to the finish line unscathed and is once again champions of the the Big Ten.

“Wonderful feeling — it’s where we wanted to be, what we hoped and worked so hard for,” Harbaugh said. “It wasn’t that long ago that we said we’re gonna do this or die trying.”

With the win and Georgia’s loss in the SEC title game, Michigan now has a shot to be the No. 1 team in Sunday’s final College Football Playoff poll. As Michigan awaits to see who its opponent is, the Wolverines can take comfort in the fact they are continuing to climb the ladder, even in the face of so much adversity.