The Michigan Wolverines are trending in the right direction, to say the least, after a thorough 45-14 thumping of Notre Dame.
During their last six quarters of football, Michigan’s had 667 yards of total offense compared to Penn State (2 quarters) and Notre Dame’s (4 quarters) 260 yards. The Michigan offense and Michigan defense are playing their best football of the season.
Michigan proved against Notre Dame that they can annihilate a good team on both sides of the ball from whistle to whistle. And with a lights out performance such as that, confidence is flowing inside Schembechler Hall, but how will the team keep that momentum going?
“I don’t know the formula for that one... momentum,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said on Monday with a big grin. “Albert Einstein, I think he had a formula. I don’t have a formula.”
Harbaugh may not have the scientific chops to draw up formulas on a chalk board, but he has a football formula of his own nonetheless. He’s won a lot of games as a head coach, he knows what it takes to be on the winning side of things more often than not, he’s had a lot of long winning streaks in his coaching career. He took a team to the NFC Championship three years in a row, which is incredibly hard to do. Yeah, Harbaugh has some type of formula, blueprint, prescription, etc for getting his team prepared to win week after week and have them playing their best football at the end of the season.
“(Former legendary Bowling Green coach) Doyt Perry would often say if the other team plays its best and we don’t, then they’ll blow us out. But if we play our best and they don’t, then we could blow them out,” Harbaugh said on his podcast. While Harbaugh’s quote here wasn’t a ‘formula’, sometimes two simple sentences can wake a team up to the reality that there’s a fine line between winning and losing, getting blown out or being the one giving the other team a whoopin’.
Michigan’s physicality and mental awareness on the field has led to improved play, but how they’re playing coincides directly with how the team prepares and how their belief in one another outweighs any internal or external doubt. “Probably the thing that stood out to me the most from the ballgame Saturday night was how much unconditional belief our players had in each other and themselves,” Harbaugh said. “It was as high as I’ve ever seen it. Practically 100 percent. They knew they would get their own job done, they knew the player next to them would get their job done. It’s what they knew.”
Michigan needs to remember how they practiced leading up to the Notre Dame game, remember how they played during the game and all the things that led to having such an impressive day. Muscle memory. Momentum can become muscle memory, in a figurative sense. Just ask the New England Patriots.
“Everybody’s walking around with confidence right now, but how do you repeat that without being over-confident? What did you do to get yourself to that point? Can you repeat that again?,” offensive line coach Ed Warinner pointed out on Wednesday. “That’s the key, the really good teams, the (New England) Patriots know how to do that week after week after week. They don’t win a game and play bad for three weeks and win a game. They win a game and they get ready and they win another game. How do you learn to handle success as well as how you learn to handle failure. Because with failure, you have to learn how to grow from that, but with success you have to learn how to manage it and then continue to move forward.”
Harbaugh always preaches that the next game on Michigan’s schedule is their biggest game, and that taking a one game at a time approach is what leads to the greatest overall success. It’s easy for writers to sit here and talk about Ohio State at the end of the season and how important a game that is, but for Michigan that’s the last thing they need to be thinking about. To beat the Buckeyes, they need to keep that momentum churning along steadily and noticeably well before The Game unfolds.
“I think the team’s focus this year has been outstanding and has really bought into the week by week basis,” offensive guard Ben Bredeson said. “We’ve done a really good job of fixing things from last week and moving on. I think it’s going to be the same thing going into this week against Maryland.”
Michigan plays Maryland, Michigan State, and Indiana leading up to The Game, and all three teams would really love to beat Michigan. Maryland has an upset in them on a given week, and Michigan State and Indiana both foam at the mouth when playing Michigan and treat the game like it’s the National Championship.
For the Wolverines, they should have a goal other than winning their three tilts leading up to The Game, they should try with all their might to make the game versus Notre Dame a common occurrence and not an outlier. While Harbaugh says they celebrate all victories, whether it’s a low scoring affair they win by a field goal or a convincing 28-point victory, it’s certainly better to have breathing room on the scoreboard. With that breathing room, other things happen; you suck the life out of your opponent, make them hate playing football for that day, you make them want to quit playing before the game is over, you physically batter and bruise them within the confines of the rules. If Michigan can continue to do those things, the momentum they now have won’t stop anytime soon, and the belief the players have in one another will only increase.
There’s absolutely no reason Michigan doesn’t head into their last game of the season with a 9-2 record if they play the way they’re capable of. They’re better than Maryland, MSU, and IU, all they have to do is prepare like they did leading up to the big game versus Notre Dame and then go out on Saturday and execute that game plan.
Michigan has the pieces on offense and defense, and now they have swagger to go along with the talent, which is important.
“If we execute at the right time and everybody’s locked in doing they’re job we can shut anybody out in the country,” safety Josh Metellus said.
“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 mindset of Patterson and Metellus along with execution on the field will lead to more thrashings by Michigan the rest of the season if they play their best. The initial 21-0 deficit against Penn State was a wake up call to the offense and defense alike, knowing they have to start stronger on defense and faster on offense if they’re going to put themselves in the best position to win. Against Notre Dame, Michigan did just that, jumping out to a 17-0 lead and never looking back.
Michigan’s performance last Saturday was one of the most impressive any team has put together throughout the entire 2019 college football season, but if the Wolverines are to be the best version of themselves by the end of the season, they’ll need to continue to increase strength, force, and play with mental clarity and relentless energy.
In short, go kick some ass.
Do it for Einstein.