The Wolverine

December 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE DECEMBER 2018 J im Harbaugh's coaching arrival in Ann Arbor drew a predictably acerbic reaction from a crusty cur- mudgeon 50 miles to the northeast. Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio took a not-so-subtle shot at Harbaugh and the Wolverines back then, noting: "We just work at it. Right now, we're selling results. I've said this over and over. We're sell- ing results. Other people are selling hope." The Spartans saw no hope this year against the Wolverines, gaining a whopping 94 total yards, 15 of them on the ground. Other puffed-up pre- season bullies quickly turned into pin-pricked balloons against the No. 1 defense in the nation and a phe- nomenally revived Michigan offense. For the second time in three sea- sons, the Wolverines will head into Columbus with a very legitimate shot at a Big Ten championship and the College Football Playoff. Nobody knows better than them that ultimate achievements come after you've put yourself in position. It's all about the finish. Still, anybody saying Harbaugh's crew is merely selling hope these days hasn't faced it on the field. The Wolverines head to the back half of November with all options open. "Every week since Wisconsin, it's been like a playoff game," sopho- more linebacker Josh Ross said. "Now we're in the mode where we've got to win out to make it to the playoff. We have to stay focused. It's natural to be focused in every single day, because we know what the stakes are. "It's beautiful. We're really in posi- tion to control our own destiny." They've already reached a mark untouched in more than a decade, and one all too rare since a magical season back in 1997. The Wolverines hit mid-November undefeated in the Big Ten, having taken out three ranked conference opponents along the way. The unblemished league mark this late hasn't happened since 2006, when the Wolverines steamed to- ward Columbus at 11-0. That weekend delivered immea- surable heartbreak, U-M losing Bo Schembechler and (secondarily) a No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown in the Horseshoe in a devastating two days. Before that, Michigan made it to Nov. 15 unscathed in league play in 2004 — incredibly, its last Big Ten championship season. They pulled it off in 1998, a Big Ten title season, and, of course, in '97, the ultimate ride for Lloyd Carr's national cham- pions. This year's crew knows it has a chance for serious results and re- mains in furious pursuit of them. Regardless of what unfolds in the days just ahead, there's so much more than blind hope on the horizon. Junior quarterback Shea Patterson (1,927 passing yards, 67.0 percent completion rate, 17 touchdowns and three interceptions through 10 games) is likely to return with an in- creasingly devastating crew of wide- outs and tight ends. They'll be behind a line which could bring back four starters, guided by wonder worker Ed Warin- ner. The Wolverines entered the final two weeks of the regular season No. 1 in total defense (219.8 yards allowed per game), No. 1 in pass defense (116.0 yards surrendered a contest) and No. 3 in scoring de- fense (12.9 points given up a game, a whopping 0.2 behind national lead- ers Clemson and Alabama). And yes, the Wolverines stand to lose some serious talent off this de- fense, including underclassmen. But if Don Brown has proven anything in three seasons at Michigan — and the man Harbaugh calls the "king of defensive coordinators" has proven plenty — it's that he can reload. Lose preseason All-American ju- nior defensive end Rashan Gary for a long stretch? Here comes sophomore defensive end Kwity Paye. Need a blitzing linebacker to supplement the Hellfire missile that is junior Devin Bush Jr.? Here comes classmate Josh Uche, leading the team with seven sacks. From Uche on defense to injured redshirt freshman quarterback Dylan McCaffrey on offense to backup punter Will Hart averaging 48.3 yards per launch through 10 games, Michigan continues on a results- oriented path to the future. Right now, only the 2018 finish matters. Former Wolverine and regular contribu- tor Ryan Van Bergen has already declared any paralyzing fear of the Buckeyes excessive. "If [quarterback] Dwayne Haskins can't catch the ball in rhythm and throw the ball on time to a receiver who is running a route in rhythm, their offense is garbage," Van Bergen insisted. "That's just how it is. They have not found a way to establish a run game … "I don't see them, offensively, be- ing able to move the ball against our defense. They require really good timing, and good luck getting good timing against the fastest defense in college football." Oh, and the originator of the hope slam? He's 19-16 since the start of the 2016 campaign and 0-2 at home against the Wolverines. Hope? Sure. But Michigan's hope springs from results, with more ex- pected soon. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Hope Becomes Hard Evidence In 2018 Under head coach Jim Harbaugh's guidance, Michigan entered the Indiana game unde- feated (7-0) in the Big Ten for the first time that late in the season since 2006. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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