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Michigan’s ‘Clint Eastwood win’ showed this team is ready to brawl

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Jim Harbaugh deserves credit for Michigan’s turnaround.

Michigan v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Michigan’s game against Nebraska was a football fight, as head coach Jim Harbaugh likes to put it.

“That was a Clint Eastwood win,” Harbaugh said. We’re gonna enjoy it.”

Michigan won the showdown at sunset just like Eastwood’s famous “Man with No Name” character would have — finding a way, using whatever means necessary. Good, bad, ugly. None of that really matters once the dust settles and you live to see another day with your dreams still in front of you on the trails to Indianapolis.

Football never promises to be pretty, and Michigan gutted it out in Lincoln, winning 32-29 after being up 13-0 at halftime. The Wolverines scored on three consecutive drives to put a stop to two leads that Nebraska held late in the game.

The Nebraska home crowd was louder and more engaged than the atmosphere Michigan encountered a week prior in Wisconsin — this time they were facing a team feeling good about themselves after a 56-7 win over Northwestern.

ACDC’s “Thunderstruck” played before the start of the fourth quarter, red lights came on, and Michigan found themselves embracing the Nebraska crowd instead of fearing them. Michigan proceeded to dance to Thunderstruck a week after jumping to “Jump Around”. As safety Dax Hill said a week ago, it’s about stealing their juice, turning their energy into your energy.

Punch. Counterpunch. Michigan got battered and bruised, but they hung in there and kept slugging right back like a street fighter movie where both combatants get their licks in.

“We stayed composed throughout the whole game. We knew adversity was going to hit. It hit, and we didn’t flinch,” safety Brad Hawkins said. “I love this team, I love this defense, and I love that we’re fighters.”

Momentum seemed to be shifting to Nebraska in a major way, but Michigan kept battling against Nebraska’s creative offense that kept the crowd engaged and believing.

“The atmosphere, the environment, it just showed a lot of poise and moxie by our guys,” Harbaugh told the media after the game. “There’s no doubt they wanted to storm the field, tear down the goal posts, carry them to the — but not on our guys’ watch tonight. That was pretty cool, pretty cool. Proud of them.”

Not on Michigan’s watch, who shut the Cornhuskers (3-4) offense down their last two drives to secure a 32-29 win. Hawkins forced a fumble by QB Adrian Martinez and Michigan recovered, and the following drive ended for Nebraska with a turnover on downs.

“Not to flinch, that’s what I’m talking about. That kind of grit, that kind of determination of not being denied,” Harbaugh said. “Just staying after it until you make one more better, sensational, incredible play than they do. And they were making some big ones.”

Michigan fans clamored for change, and change is here, this is what it looks and feels like. Some of what’s happened during the first half of Michigan’s season can’t be quantified on a stat sheet — it’s just as much about the overall vibe surrounding the program, most importantly the vibe within that locker room. The team is hustling, they’re holding one another accountable and to a higher standard — the bottom line is this Michigan team wants to be tough and they’re going to get to find out how tough they are in the days to come.

Michigan’s far from a perfect team, they need their upcoming bye week to take a deep dive into the mistakes made and learn from them so they don’t happen again. Being able to take a punch is a commendable characteristic, but avoiding the big hits and delivering decisive blows in return will always be the best strategy.