The Wolverine

November 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2018 J im Harbaugh won't talk about championships. He'd rather talk process. That's understandable. In his mind, the latter inevitably leads to the former. As a player, he used to work out assiduously during two-a-days, but not like you'd think. Oh, he was all in for the regular sessions, going all out like everybody else. But he also ran in between those workouts, his dad — former Bo Schembechler assistant coach Jack Harbaugh — recalled. The Michigan quarterback embraced the idea that while others were cooling down, luxuriating in a shower, collapsed on a bed, he was pushing himself. Getting better. The competitive fire still burns deep. He doesn't issue guarantees anymore. He made that clear the day he re-arrived in Ann Arbor. He simply knows to keep pushing. "We were focused on this game, just like we will be next game," Har- baugh assured, following Michigan's dismantling of Wisconsin under the lights at The Big House. "We've es- poused the theory that improvement will lead to success will lead to cham- pionships." He's guiding a team that can seize that opportunity with a November to remember. The Wolverines' destiny remains in their own claws, when October rolls into the regular season's final month. That wasn't the case last year — at all. Michigan experienced climate change in the middle month of the 2017 schedule, the competitive tem- perature dropping precipitously. It wasn't an existential threat, but it sure felt like it. The Wolverines invaded Happy Valley and limped away dismantled, 42-13. They'd absorbed seven sacks, failed to restart the engine on a tail- spinning offense and delivered a fore- shadowing of three consecutive losses to close the campaign, leading to an Ice Age of an offseason. Harbaugh knew it had to change, and it has. He brought in new offen- sive coaches, including past architects of greatness at Alabama and DFTBNL (Demonic Force To Be Named Later). He plucked a former five-star quar- terback out of the SEC. He changed strength and conditioning coaches, demanded more and wound up with a team ranked No. 6 in the nation, seven games in. At press time, the Wolverines still featured another Don Brown demo- lition "D," No. 1 nationally in pass defense (129.1 yards allowed per game) and No. 2 in the country for total defense (238.0). They were No. 1 in the Big Ten in no fewer than five defensive categories — total defense, passing defense, scoring defense (15.4 points allowed per game), pass efficiency defense (95.7 rating) and defensive touchdowns (three). Those weren't the head-turning numbers. Expecting The Don they call Dr. Blitz to crank out a fearsome unit is like expecting Don Corleone to leave some pick-ups for the morgue. No, Harbaugh knew where the Wolverines crashed and burned a year ago. He lit a different flame, one that took the chill away. Through seven games, Michigan averaged 38.1 points per contest, nearly two touchdowns a game more than last season (25.2). The Wolver- ines' 2017 quarterbacks combined to throw nine touchdown passes, including three to wide receivers — their lowest total since 1975. Barely past the midway point of 2018, junior quarterback Shea Pat- terson notched 10 TD tosses on his belt, with nine of the team's 12 scor- ing grabs going to wideouts. Senior tailback Karan Higdon piled up 687 yards and six touchdowns in U-M's first seven games, behind an offensive line more determined to change the narrative than an irrepressible opti- mist reading Lord Of The Flies. Junior guard and team captain Ben Bredeson insists his room wanted to shut up the critics, and Ed Warinner — former Ohio State offensive line coach — pointed the way. "Coach Warinner has been around," Bredeson said. "He's coached at some other schools and had some success. He knows what it takes to win. He came in and showed us what we needed to do. The older guys on the line, we really took it upon ourselves to focus on that. We wanted to be a dominant group this year, a group that could really carry the team." Patterson makes it all go. He's ener- gized Michigan in dual-threat fashion better than any U-M quarterback since Drew Henson, his 68.6-percent passing and 81-yard run against Wis- consin underscoring the assertion. "He's someone you've got to ac- count for," Higdon said. "He's a dynamic player who makes great plays with his feet and with his arm. He's another player defenses have to watch out for now." Opponents have to watch out for Michigan now … once again. The Wolverines control their fate from here on out. Some big boys remain, but Harbaugh fashioned Michigan back into one of the big boys. Improvement to success to champi- onships — they're on that road, and running hard. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Everything Remains In Play For U-M Junior quarterback Shea Patterson has fired 10 passes for touchdowns, including seven to wideouts, compared to the nine and three, respectively, Michigan posted all of last year. PHOTO BY BRANDON BROWN

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