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Pressure’s nothing new: Michigan’s had their back against the wall all year

Playing with pressure is normal for Michigan

Christopher Hall- Maize n Brew

Pressure is nothing new for the Michigan football team.

They’ve felt it all year long. All of 2018.

Once the Outback Bowl ended, all we heard for months on end was “September 1st, Michigan at Notre Dame”.

It was one of the most anticipated games to start off a season in recent memory. There was hype, pressure for Michigan to win, knowing if they lost this huge game they had no margin for error the rest of the season if they wanted to be one of the four teams selected to the College Football Playoff.

That huge game against ND came and went, with the Wolverines losing by a touchdown when things were all said and done.

“Does it feel like a setback, though?,” Harbaugh was asked after the game.

“It’s a beginning. It’s a beginning for us. We’re not treating it like the end,” Harbaugh said back sternly.

Harbaugh was right, it was the beginning.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

What’s happened since has been an impressive 10-game win streak, stomping the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State along the way while having one of the biggest comebacks in program history on the road against the Big Ten West Champion, Northwestern.

The schedule has been one of the toughest in all of college football, yet here the Wolverines are with their biggest goals within striking distance.

Throughout the year we’ve seen nothing that would indicate stagnation or complacency should be words associated with the 2018 Michigan team, but the words adaptation and evolution are fitting.

There has never been panic, only there’s confidence exuded by countless players. Even when the majority of outsiders doubted the team, they kept chugging right along, improving weekly in all three phases of the game.

Michigan has an offense that has now become quite hard to gameplan against. It can attack an opposing defense in so many different ways. On a given week Karan Higdon might run the ball 30 times, on another day Shea Patterson may throw well over 30 passes. We’ve seen games where Patterson has ran the read-option aplenty, while other games he has been more of a (highly mobile) pocket passer. Good luck figuring out how they’re going to scheme weekly.

Speaking of which, how about formation variety? There’s been a great mix between power sets and spread formations, with the RPO and pistol added little by little as the season progressed.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

And of course, there’s Michigan’s defense and their coordinator Don Brown, who is always ready to adapt during a game, a season. Brown will do whatever it takes to win the next game, the next quarter, the next play. Michigan’s D is the best in the nation, but no defense is superhuman, and they’ve had a down quarter here and there, but they always turn things around, aided by Brown’s in-game adjustments.

What may be the most impressive part of Michigan’s season is something that has happened on and off the field, the part that makes sports a brotherhood.

“Enjoy each other’s company. Probably the most profound thing is how they talk about each other,” Harbaugh said. “Even when you’re complimenting one of our players, they’re very quick to move the spotlight off of them onto another position group or another player. Think that speaks volumes. Close-knit team.”

The players have been through a lot together, they’ve bonded through blood and sweat, they’ve aided each other in conquering their fears, and have been side by side having a lot of fun, too.

“Yeah, we’re having fun. Working hard and we’re having fun doing it,” Harbaugh said.

They like each other, and when a team is cohesive enough to genuinely love one another, it’s hard for another team to topple such a talented and close-knit bunch.

The team has been through a lot together the past two seasons, first there was plenty of defeat, now they’ve rattled off a handful of triumphs. They know what it’s like to be near the top of the hill, they know what it’s like to be ridiculed and at the bottom. With these experiences, they’ve learned how to have a winning approach, even when faced with tremendous amounts of pressure.

“I always look at pressure as life-giving energy,” Harbaugh said on Monday.

The pressure has been there so long for Michigan and Harbaugh. It’s nothing new. The same awareness that they must win this week has existed even before losing to Notre Dame, and certainly after they lost. They’ve had to win each and every week.

Because of that construct, Michigan is battle tested, but the tests never run out, there are new battles to be won, and their biggest one to date is at a place nicknamed The Horseshoe.