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Michigan balancing swagger and focus as Ohio State battle looms

Michigan’s in a good headspace, but their biggest threat is about to knock at their door.

Michigan v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

This week, the game on Saturday against 10-1 Ohio State, is the final stage of a season where Michigan has put themselves in a position where this game against the Buckeyes means everything and them some.

10-1 Michigan wins the Big Ten East if they beat Ohio State, they advance to the Big Ten Championship Game, their College Football Playoff hopes would still be in sight.

Veteran leaders, coaches, they preached how this team was different all off-season — a new energy, heightened focus. Well, Michigan’s done a lot more right than wrong in a season where not many pundits expected Michigan to win more than 6-or-7 games.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year after a 2-4 season, that was the narrative when players and staff were saying the opposite — they were saying this team, the 2021 Michigan Wolverines, can go far.

And Michigan has gone far, but the biggest roadblock of them all is now in front of them, the team that consistently kills their biggest hopes and dreams.

For Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, he sees something in this team, he sees a new path forward. He sees a confident and serious bunch.

“I see it in their eyes, I hear the power in their voices — I see the confidence in their eyes,” Harbaugh said. “I think we’re all feeding off of each other like that. When I look at them, it feels like I’m looking in the mirror. I see the same confidence in them that I’m feeling inside of me.”

Confidence and execution, they go a long way. For Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara, he believes in his ability to find weaknesses in Ohio State’s defense.

“I wouldn’t say I’m very concerned about anything,” McNamara said on the Inside Michigan Football Radio Show. “I’d say we’re looking to take advantage of Ohio State. As the week progresses, we’re gonna find ways to do that. I know this offense is going to be very confident going into this game.”

Michigan isn’t running away from their past failures, they’re like a bad spirit hanging over them — those losses to Ohio State just don’t go away. The Game means an incredible amount.

“I think we’ve silenced the critics for the most part. We have this one final test against Ohio State — this is a team that we simply haven’t beaten in many years. It’s something that we have to get over. It starts on Saturday,” edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson said. “Hopefully, we will go out there and get the win and break that streak.”

For linebacker and captain Josh Ross, he’s sick of the talk about prior losses, sick of the talk period — he wants to get out on the field.

“We’re tired of talking, none of the past matters. We know what happened in the past. We know all the stuff that happened,” Ross said. “At the end of the day, it’s about right now, having a great week of preparation, attacking, having great days and having a great game this weekend.”

Harbaugh was asked on Monday how often does someone bring up beating Ohio State to him when he’s around the town in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh said as often as it’s on his own mind.

A key for Michigan will be to balance that confidence with keeping their emotions in check. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low.

“It’s important to keep the emotions out of it, just because you can get so wrapped up in the Big Ten Championship, beating Ohio State and ending the streak. You do get emotional and you do want it so bad and that makes you focus so much on just winning, and the outcome,” Hutchinson said. “That’s one thing I’m gonna stress this week — is staying unemotional and staying in the process and focus on just taking one play at a time.”

Michigan will try to do the unthinkable on Saturday against Ohio State at noon ET on FOX.