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Harbaugh: Michigan must follow the ‘first rule of champions’ ahead of Big Ten Championship bout with Purdue

Harbaugh had a lot of praise for the Wolverines’ performance against Ohio State

Michigan v Ohio State Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines are 12-0 for the first time since 1997, and they are on the precipice of a perfect season after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus on Saturday.

“It feels great,” said head coach Jim Harbaugh. “(We are) right where we want to be. So much appreciation for everybody in the program. Players. Coaches. Staff. Fans. Family. Everybody. It’s a wonderful feeling. The great thrill of victory. Wonderful, wonderful feeling of winning.”

The focus has now shifted in Ann Arbor from that thrilling victory to the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis where the Wolverines will take on the 8-4 Purdue Boilermakers for the crown. Harbaugh told Jon Jansen on the Inside Michigan Football Radio Show that his team must follow the “first rule of champions”.

“It’s not even a principle, it’s the first rule of champions — do not let up. You gotta follow that rule No. 1.”

While Purdue escaped a rocky Big Ten West, Harbaugh credited Jeff Brohm’s job at Purdue. In Brohm’s tenure, the Boilermakers have pulled off five wins over Top-25 opponents. Three of those came against Top-10 opponents.

“We have been watching them, we haven’t played them since 2017, but we watch them either on TV or we watch them in the film exchange,” said the Michigan head coach. “They have beaten a lot of good teams, a lot of really good football teams, in the Jeff Brohm era. And we have seen them all, we have watched them all, and we know we have to be really prepared.

“It’s a team that is playing for the championship. That envigorates a team. There is hope, just win this game and all the work you have done, all the sweat, blood, enthusiasm, everything that’s gone into it, you are 60 minutes away from being crowned champions. There is no better accolade than being a champion.”

Last year, Harbaugh said, Michigan was in a similar spot because nobody expected the Wolverines to be in Indianapolis. It was a mindset and mentality that, “gave us a tremendous boost in that situation. I know they are feeling the same. That makes them dangerous. It makes us dangerous, cause it’s envigorating us as well. Ya, two dangerous teams going to be going at it.”

It seems, however, that Harbaugh knows his guys will be ready. He mentioned several players like senior defensive lineman Mazi Smith, safety Rod Moore, and nickelback Mike Sainristil who played the best games of their lives against Ohio State this weekend.

Overall, Harbaugh said that “every stop was like gold” as the Wolverines tried to slow a high-powered Ohio State offense. He credited the team for not picking up costly offsides penalties or personal fouls that would have given the Buckeyes second life.

More than a few guys stuck out to Harbaugh on Saturday, but he did give massive props to edge rusher Braiden McGregor:

He’s the next guy that is on the verge of stardom. He’s had some adversity. I thought the pass rush he was giving was a lot of strength. Was putting up pressure, making the stop on 3rd and 3, just knocking down a pass that was thrown out on the perimeter. You don’t see that a lot, that takes some incredible reaction. But, he’s been just so steady. He hasn’t flinched, hasn’t blinked. Completely stays the course. Just reminds me of ‘Those who stay will be champions’ that’s on prominently in our building in a lot of places. (He’s) making that come to life.”

Harbaugh also mentioned the play of true freshman Will Johnson. He said he thought that he was so good that Ohio State began to move Biletnikoff-favorite Marvin Harrison away from him. He wasn’t 100% confident of that, but either way, Johnson looks like he could be the best corner Michigan has seen in some time.

Early on against the Buckeyes, Michigan’s offense was struggling due to Blake Corum being off the field. Harbaugh said the first touchdown pass from McCarthy to Cornelius Johnson “really got us going.”

However, it wasn’t a confidence booster, because his team had it all along. “From early on, Karsen Barnhart said, ‘Coach, we are going to win this game.’ And then he came off after a PAT, we were still trailing and he said, ‘We are going to win this game coach.’ The confidence level was high. Our guys were determined. They felt like they had put in the hard work. They had paid the price and they were going to trust their training and they were going to go out there and they were going to give it their very best. I’m going to do my best, and that should be enough. But, then to see guys seize the moment. I mean, you talk about seizing the moment or seizing the day, not rejecting the moment, our guys did that, and some played the best game of their life.”

A lot of the credit had to go to the offensive line, according to Harbaugh. He concurred with mand pundits that Olu Oluwatimi is “the best center in all of college football” and said the unit was “incredible up front.”

That helped free up sophomore back Donovan Edwards had touchdown runs of 75 and 85 yards respectively. Harbaugh detailed what he was seeing from the Ohio State defense that allowed such big plays from the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.

“What I saw was, they were crowding the box and it was like the zero coverage where everyone was up. Every gap, every gap filled. Our line gets a crease, a big one, and Donno got through it. With Donno, as soon as he gets behind the defense, and in that case, he was probably behind them at six yards, you know it’s over. Nobody is catching him. that’s the beauty of Donovan Edwards. He is just so, so fast and determined to score.”

While the win over Ohio State was joyous, the focus now has to shift to the next step. Let’s hope the Wolverines follow “the first real of champions” and repeat as Big Ten Champs this weekend.