It all comes down to this. The Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes have been on a collision course all season, and this weekend we will see the two undefeated teams face off. For the winner, a path to the Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff awaits. The loser is left in the hands of fate, and likely on the wrong side of it.
Jim Harbaugh knows what it takes to win this game. He finally got a notch in the win column last season when the Wolverines ended an eight-game losing streak that spanned nearly a decade. Now, they are working towards making it a trend heading to Columbus, where Michigan has not won since 2000.
“It’s an honor to be in this position and playing in this big game, playing for a championship,” Harbaugh said on the Inside Michigan Football radio show. “I’m most thrilled that our guys are excited about the test cause we are going to be tested. It’s going to be our toughest test of the year. Find out what our limits are physically, mentally, spiritually. I think we are made of the right stuff and I think you are going to see that.”
The two programs are meeting as undefeated foes for the first time since 2006. Harbaugh attributed that to many things saying, “They have great coaches. We have great coaches. They have great players. We have great players. They have Heisman guys, we have Heisman guys. It’s like two superhero teams meeting on Saturday.”
For some of the Wolverines’ “superheroes,”it will be the first time they have faced Ohio State on the road. The 2020 game that was canceled due to COVID-19 problems within the Michigan program was the last time this game was scheduled in Columbus. So the few players who were freshmen in 2018 are the only guys who have ever played in The Shoe.
Harbaugh’s message was simple: “Go enjoy it. Go have at it. The mission isn’t grim. It isn’t one of anxiety or fear. I tell them to prepare harder for this week, or more. But this is the way they have approached every single week. Going about the business of getting prepared and ready to play this game.”
They’ll be preparing for a slew of talent within the Ohio State offense including Heisman hopeful C.J. Stroud and Biletnikoff semifinalist Marvin Harrison Jr. While their running backs are injured, Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson have also been excellent this season.
“They are very good. They’re very explosive,” said Harbaugh. “You know as well as I do what they are capable of. (They are) playing at a super high level.”
The Buckeye defense has also had some notable improvements this season. Harbaugh credits that to new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles running more man coverage. But what he credited them the most with was their “opportunistic defense — 17 turnovers on the year, 10 by interception. Caused like 16 fumbles and recovered six of those, I believe. And scored three touchdowns. It’s really good.”
Both Michigan and Ohio State struggled in their contests a week before The Game. Ohio State won on a late pick-six in College Park against the Maryland Terrapins. Meanwhile, the Wolverines escaped at home against Illinois on a last-second field goal from Jake Moody.
Harbaugh called Moody “a legend now” after his performance. There was some conversation with him and his senior kicker as to where the line to kick was. They determined it was that 27-yard line. Michigan got to the 28 before sending Moody out for the game-winner.
“I just asked him, ‘Hey we are at the 28, not the 27. What do you think?’ He gave me a thumbs up and sent him out there to kick it. There was no hesitation.”
The other notable moment in this game came late in the first half went Blake Corum was injured. Harbaugh played coy when asked if the game plan might change on Saturday depending on Corum’s health: “It could, and it could not. Both of those options would be available,” Harbaugh said with a chuckle.
Without Corum, Michigan’s offense was stagnant on the ground and struggled to move the football for much of the second half. But Harbaugh pointed to the New England Patriots' 10-3 win over the New York Jets on Sunday. He praised New England for finding a way to win with a punt return. He compared it to the way his team beat Illinois this past weekend.
“I just love the clutch play,” said Harbaugh. “Our offense really won the game for us. So did our defense. And so did our special teams. We are putting together a really good plan, I think, that we will practice this week and take down to Columbus and hopefully put up more points than they do.”