For a 6-2 team that has one of the toughest schedules in the nation, the No. 19 Michigan Wolverines have been a punching bag for critics. And against No. 8 Notre Dame, they punched back.
Michigan didn’t only land the first punch against the Fighting Irish, they landed all the significant strikes. The Wolverines were relentless with their haymakers, and they didn’t just knock out Notre Dame, they knocked out the naysayers... for now.
Michigan narrowly lost to Penn State a week ago, turning a 21-0 deficit into a 28-21 game with a chance at the goal-line in the final two minutes to tie it up. A loss is a loss, but the narratives thrown towards Michigan were anything but fair.
Someone I don’t normally give oxygen to, Paul Finebaum, said he could find a better coach than Jim Harbaugh by blindly putting his finger on a name in the yellow pages. This isn’t a fair take, it was flat out mean and false, and would lead the casual college football fan to believe that the Wolverines football program is an absolute joke. Well, on Saturday night the joke was on Finebaum and anyone else who said Michigan would roll over the rest of the season.
Instead, Michigan took the Penn State loss on the chin and learned from it, starting out fast and physical on both sides of the ball versus Notre Dame.
“The second half of the Penn State game I kind of thought we hit our stride,” quarterback Shea Patterson said. “I think we realized after that game, going into this week, Monday’s practice offensively we gotta come out that way from start to finish. You can’t come out flat and expect to make a heroic comeback in the end. Gotta help out our defense, our defense played lights out tonight and I thought we executed all night offensively and I think the results spoke for themselves.”
The results did speak, loudly and clearly.
Michigan looked like a well coached team with players making a statement to the outside world, the world outside of their submarine. They may hear the noise on the outside, but the team is developing an ‘Us vs Everybody’ mentality.
Let’s be real, most pundits and many fans hopped right off the bandwagon after the team lost to Wisconsin, and did the same when Michigan lost to Penn State. However, despite hardly anyone else believing in them or lifting them up when they could have used a pat on the back, the team stuck together and pushed through.
“They’ve had some tests, they’ve taken some criticism. To have the mindset to keep working and keep growing, that leads to really great victories and success like our players had tonight,” Jim Harbaugh said. “Great lesson for them. Not everybody can do that. That’s why I’m really proud of our team and have so much respect for the guys. To be able to know that at a young age, at 18-20 years old, that’s good. Bodes well.”
Season done. Goals done. Harbaugh done?— Mike Sullivan (@MikeSullivan) October 20, 2019
The season is not done, the goals are never done, and Jim Harbaugh is very much alive. Against Notre Dame it looked like the vintage Harbaugh teams he fielded at Stanford and during his time as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Physical, fundamentally sound fighters who want to embarrass the other team within the confines of the rules.
While a Big Ten Championship Game berth is a longshot to say the least, beating a rival such as Notre Dame gives them momentum heading into other rivalry tilts at home versus Michigan State and Ohio State. The goals are not done. Some on the outside may feel that way for some reason, but the team isn’t packing it in, they’re hungry to get better. They only have this collegiate experience once and they’re making the most of it. Don’t listen to me, just watch the game film.
“I knew what this defense is capable of, and I knew we were capable of shutting anybody out,” safety Josh Metellus said. “If we execute at the right time and everybody’s locked in doing they’re job we can shut anybody out in the country.”
That’s where the mindset of the team is, they’re believing right now. They have some necessary focused swagger.
“Once we pick it up, it’s hard to stop us, offensively or defensively it’s hard to stop us, it’s hard to put a cap on it,” Metellus said. “But once we started fast in that first quarter and didn’t give up a first quarter touchdown or any first quarter points I knew the defense was gonna hold on throughout the rest of the game.”
The narratives for Michigan will come and go, the team will be praised and then get heavily criticized when they stumble, but now they have a chance to keep the critics eating crow and finish this season in one hell of an impressive fashion. Yes, it’ll ultimately boil down to beating Ohio State, but now it’s quite possible the Wolverines give them a battle at the very least.
Between now and The Game the Wolverines need to keep thrashing every team that’s in their way and make it clear before they step on the field against the Buckeyes that they’re a force to be reckoned with. Jim Harbaugh is a good coach, and he has his team playing for him, has them playing for one another. This isn’t conjecture, this is reality. Teams do improve throughout the course of a season and while Michigan may have two losses too many, they still can have a memorable season if they win out.
Keep throwing punches. Keep landing the first haymaker. Don’t take big hits. If Michigan can abide by these boxing analogies, good things will continue to transpire.