For weeks, we had been told that this Michigan football team was on the precipice of doing something great. The work was being put in. The preparation and effort in practice was at a high level. But to some of us, media included (and myself included), those words from Jim Harbaugh rang hollow until the results showed on the field.
We saw it start to percolate during the final 2.5 quarters of the effort at Penn State, but the Wolverines dug themselves too deep a hole to climb out of and didn’t make enough big plays.
They didn’t let that become an issue on Saturday night against the eighth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Michigan was dominant and aggressive in a 45-14 blowout win that was not even that close on the scoreboard. The Irish scored a touchdown that was gifted to them by officiating and another in garbage time when most fans and media were busy laughing at John O’Neill’s incompetent refereeing and not knowing what the on/off switch was on his microphone.
If you want to make the argument that this is the most complete and impressive effort of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan, I will not argue with you at all. So many nasty things have been said about his program, his current team and himself personally and with a season on the brink of running off the rails, he and his coaching staff have done an excellent job of keeping these guys engaged and locked in.
There’s still a heck of a lot to play for after all.
This game was won in the trenches on both sides of the football with a Michigan offensive line that has been inconsistent all year finally pulling it together and blowing the Irish off the ball all night to a tune of 303 yards rushing. The Wolverines seem to have found their one-two punch at running back in Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins.
Even Don Brown was busy putting together one of his better coaching performances at Michigan. The defense held Notre Dame to 1.5 yards per rush and 4.6 yards per passing attempt. It seems we’re starting to see him mix in and unleash some different looks, as well. Of course, it helps to have ascending young talent like linebacker Cam McGrone and slot-buster Daxton Hill on the field.
Josh Gattis felt comfortable and in command of the offense once again, along with some help in the run game with concepts that have Ed Warriner’s name written all over them. They took the weather conditions for what they were and did not force anything, but dialed up some aggressive play calls when it mattered most.
Shea Patterson wasn’t asked to do too much, especially on a night with the weather as it was for 2.5 quarters, and that’s when he seems to be at his best. Michigan has done a much better job of putting its quarterback in a spot to succeed in the last month or so and you’re seeing the results of that on the field.
Heck, even an aggressive Harbaugh returned to the fold for what feels like the first time in a long time. And his team responded accordingly.
Saturday night showed once again what Michigan can be capable of when it plays loose and sure of itself. The opposite of that has been the reason more often than not how they’ve dug holes for themselves in the past. There are not any championships on the line for them now, and perhaps in a weird way that has taken pressure off of them. However, this is what they are capable of when they stay out of their own way.
Michigan did not totally kill the narratives surrounding themselves, but they sure did take a heck of a step in showing the failures of the past do not have to define them moving forward. They’re capable of big things. They can win big games. We’ve seen thrashings at home before, but never quite like this against a team like that.
That type of effort on both sides of the ball gives them a shot to make Nov. 30 against Ohio State at the very least interesting. And at this point, that’s about all you can ask for. The loss at Wisconsin was an eye-opening low point for this regime and the Penn State game was a “close, but no cigar” effort, but they took all of the criticism and all of the hard work put in since then and took it out on Notre Dame.
This was the swing game that they needed to get to potentially finish the regular season with nine wins and give themselves a shot at a 10th in a bowl game, but if that arrow keeps pointing upward, there’s certainly a scenario in play where they could get there before the regular season is over.
There is a lot of work to do and a lot of improvement that still needs to happen, but at least for a night, you saw a mixture of old and new concepts that give this reboot a long-awaited chance.
And that’s what hitting your stride looks like.