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Top-10 games of the Jim Harbaugh Era, No. 2: Michigan beats Iowa to win Big Ten Championship

The Wolverines finally won in Indy.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 04 Big Ten Championship Game - Michigan v Iowa Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Man, it feels good to be the Big Ten Champions, and it’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine!

Each Sunday we have been going through the top wins of the Jim Harbaugh era, and we have finally arrived at the top two. Coming in second is that joyous and monumental day when the Wolverines cruised past the Iowa Hawkeyes to win in Indy for the first time for their first Big Ten Championship Game. Let’s revisit it.

Season Significance: 10, Pre-Game Hype: 10

Michigan faithful were elated coming off a fairytale finish to the regular season, beating the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big House. The fans rushed the field and the party had not stopped heading to Indianapolis for the conference title game.

They would meet a good Iowa squad coached by one of the most veteran leaders in college football, Kirk Ferentz. At one point, the Hawkeyes were the No. 2 team in the country thanks to their running game and stifling defense. However, back-to-back midseason losses brought them back down to earth a bit.

Michigan had just one blemish on the schedule to MSU but after conquering the Buckeyes, this team was as confident as ever. Some thought they could even be the best in the country. They would only have the opportunity to prove that further at Lucas Oil Stadium. For Harbaugh, a chance to further bolster his resume after receiving unrelenting scrutiny over the offseason. And raising that crystal football would all but silence all those doubters.

Highlight Play Score: 10, Individual Performance: 5

It’s weird because despite all of that momentum for the Wolverines, Iowa landed the first punch. Michigan’s offense went three-and-out on the opening possession and Spencer Petras and the Hawkeyes took over. Tyler Goodson moved the ball on the ground effectively, all the way into the red zone. However, David Ojabo made a huge tackle on the edge on third down, earning a tackle for loss:

The Hawkeyes were forced to kick a field goal and they missed a 33-yard chip shot.

Blake Corum, who had been battling injuries for the last month or so of the regular season, got to show off his game-changing speed with a nudge from J.J. McCarthy in the blocking game on his way to a 67-yard score:

Michigan got the ball right back after the defensive unit held Iowa to a three-and-out. A little trickery ala a pass from Donavan Edwards to Roman Wilson had them finding the end zone on consecutive offensive plays:

Great teams know how to make one score leads into two scored leads fast, and that was exactly the situation here for Michigan. Suddenly, it was 14-0 and it was looking like the Wolverines were in full control.

Petras began to settle in for the Hawkeyes as he found Sam LaPorta for the fourth time in the first quarter on the next possession. Iowa found itself inside the 10-yard line again. Once again, the Michigan defense kept the Hawkeyes out of the end zone but did relent a field goal to make the score 14-3.

A McNamara interception gave the ball right back to Iowa with a chance to make it a one-possession game. Luckily, Michigan’s defense stepped up again as the ball changed hands seven times in the second quarter with a whole lot of nothing going on.

The Wolverines went into the half with an 11-point advantage, but the Hawkeyes got the ball out of the break. LaPorta picked up a first down, but they punted after gaining just 16 yards on the drive.

Hassan Haskins decided to take over the rest of this game, and I don’t think anybody expected anything less. He had more than 40 rushing yards and two scores converting on several short-yardage situations in the process. He capped off a commanding 10-play, 82-yard drive with this easy score on the edge:

Now down 21-3, Iowa knew it needed to score. Alex Padilla took over for Spencer Petras behind center and got the Hawkeyes moving. He completed 5-of-6 passes as Iowa moved towards the Michigan goal line again. However, they lost seven yards on 4th and goal. Now three times inside the red zone, and Iowa came out with only three points.

A three-and-out from the Wolverines gave the ball back to Iowa. But the Hawkeyes once again went nowhere. Lining up for a punt, Cornelius Johnson made the play on special teams swatting at the kick:

McNamara immediately found Luke Schoonmaker on a wheel route, making a beautiful one-handed catch:

Haskins dove over the goal line on the very next play to increase the lead to 28-3.

The Hawkeyes had nowhere to go again after taking over. Their final 10 possessions of the game went as follows:

  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Turnover on downs
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Interception
  • End of Game

Mike Macdonald and the Michigan defense had the game plan to shut down this Iowa team all night long. The front led the way for the majority of the game, giving very little access to Iowa’s running game. On 33 carries, Iowa had just 104 yards to show for it.

Erick All made a few big catches on the next drive, as the Wolverines found him for 38 yards to around midfield. He finished the drive with a contested snag in the end zone to push the lead to 35-3:

The reserves were now in the game for the Michigan defense, as several players who hardly saw the field got the opportunity to play on the brightest stage. Caden Kolesar made the most of that chance by picking off Padilla.

Edwards ensured the trifecta of Harbaugh’s backs would find the end zone and punched in a one-yard touchdown.

The final score was 42-3 and Harbaugh, Aidan Hutchinson and McNamara celebrated by lifting the Stagg Championship Trophy over their heads. Confetti fell from the rafters and for the second week in a row, the on-field celebration commenced as Michigan won another program-changing game.

Historical Significance: 10

For the first time since 2004, the Wolverines were Big Ten Champions. It happened with a man leading the program that a lot of people had lost faith in.

Historically, this year goes down as the best in almost two decades. Harbaugh navigated a team that went 2-4 the year before to Big Ten Champions a year later, with several of the same playmakers. It was very close to a perfect regular season and it brought joy to so many people.

Yet, it was the second-best moment of this year, and we will get to that a week from today.

Total: 45/50

It was the perfect way to wrap up a phenomenal season for the Wolverines. They solidified their first ever College Football Playoff appearance because of this win.

The big plays, powerhouse defense and excitement around this game makes it one of the most exhilarating games to watch in my life as a Michigan fan.

Had the game a week prior to this never existed, it would be No. 1 on this list. But we all know what is coming in the finale of this series, and it’s one you will not want to miss.


Check out the other games in this series released every Sunday:

No. 10: Michigan escapes Bloomington in 2OT thriller in 2015

No. 9: Michigan tops Florida in 2016 Citrus Bowl

No. 8: Michigan throttles Penn State in 2018

No. 7: Michigan tops Wisconsin in Top 15 showdown

No. 6: Michigan destroys Notre Dame in 2019

No. 5: Harbaugh earns his first win over MSU in 2016

No. 4: Michigan tops Wisconsin in 2016 top-10 game

No. 3: Michigan’s defense suffocates MSU in 2018