The Wolverine

December 2021*

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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66 THE WOLVERINE DECEMBER 2021 "We're going to beat [Ohio State] or die trying." M any memes were born from Jim Harbaugh's Big Ten media day statement this fall, most of them by snickering Ohioans. "RIP, Jim!" one wrote beneath a picture of a smirking OSU coach Ryan Day. "Death it is, then!" wrote a Buck- eyes beat writer … and we're not talking a team site publication writer, like us. This was a supposed 'unbi- ased journalist' from Columbus who simply couldn't help himself. We couldn't help but notice the look on his face when the Nov. 27 game ended 42-27, Michigan, while he sat down to write his column. It was as though someone had backed over his beloved dog, Brutus. ESPN, making sure to include Harbaugh's 0-5 record against OSU in its description, referred to it as the Michigan coach drawing a "line in the turf." On that, they were right. And on that, we respectfully say, "it's about time." This was the Jim Harbaugh we all signed up for — the in-your-face, "what's your deal?" backslapping-the-losing- coach-on-the-way-off-the-field guy. He wasn't out to make friends. His goal was to beat the other team into submission with good, fair, hard-nosed, fundamental football, and have a little fun doing it. It didn't always go over well with oppo- nents, but so be it. The late, great Michi- gan play-by-play announcer Bob Ufer once called the game "man's inhumanity to man" for a reason. It's not Sunday morning strawberries and cream, or tea and crumpets from Wimbledon. Often criticized for not taking the game "as seriously" as the rivals down south, Harbaugh changed his approach entering year seven. He set aside a portion of each practice for the Buckeyes, the way his mentor, Bo Schembechler, always used to. "Every day," the late coach emphasized to us during his last-ever press conference prior to the 2006 contest, the Monday before his death the following Friday. We weren't around in 1969, when Schembechler's Michigan team beat what many called Woody Hayes' best ever, 24- 12. We imagine this is how the fan base felt, too, after that team got the Ohio State gorilla off its back. And we know the old coach would have been ecstatic over how they did it. The man who once asked then-Stanford coach Harbaugh, "You got a fullback?" when his protégé took the reins in Palo Alto had to be smiling somewhere. U-M put up 297 rushing yards, 169 from red- shirt sophomore Hassan Haskins, and completely dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball. OSU's backs averaged 7.5 yards per carry coming in, but the Buckeyes fin- ished with only 64 yards on the ground (2.1 per carry). Few believed it possible, including most in the media, but something seemed dif- ferent in the pregame. It was palpable. Past Michigan teams were like many Ohio State opponents over the years — a bit intimidated, frankly — but this group had more than a bit of bounce in its collective step, as though it knew something we didn't. It turned out they did. "I told you," junior Aidan Hutchin- son told the media with a grin on his face after one of the most dominant performances in The Game's history. He'd finish with three sacks among his seven tackles, and his 15 — 15 — QB pressures were the most since Pro Football Focus had been keeping the stat (2014). His show- ing put him in legitimate Heisman Trophy contention. Former safety and captain Marcus Ray once noted, "Your best players have to win this game for you," the way Charles Woodson, Desmond Howard, etc., did back in the day. Hutchinson and Haskins answered the bell, and then some. But they didn't do it alone. This was a true "team" all year, Harbaugh noted, and it was built in his image. "My favorite saying of all time is, 'Where there's a will, there's a way,'" Har- baugh said. "The will was very strong in our team. "The way it feels now … it just feels like the beginning." It took a while — nearly seven years — but on a perfect November football after- noon, complete with snowflakes and one of the loudest crowds we've ever heard at The Big House, it feels like the Michigan football of old again. Yes, it took until year seven for Har- baugh to find the right formula of coaches and players to make it work, including a staff overhaul in the offseason. No, that wasn't good enough for a por- tion of the fan base, not willing to ac- knowledge Harbaugh had been achingly close in 2016 and in contention in four of his seven years. To that we say, "better late than never" — and see you in Indianapolis. ❏ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997. Contact him at cbalas@ thewolverine.com and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS Long Live The Kings Jim Harbaugh (pictured with freshman wideout A .J. Henning) changed his approach to The Game, preparing each day for the Buckeyes, and it paid off with a 42-27 win. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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