The Wolverine

January 2024

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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60 THE WOLVERINE ❱ JANUARY 2024 I n 2020, following a heated Big Ten coaches Zoom call, Ohio State coach Ryan Day reportedly told his team it would "hang 100" on Michigan. The Wolverines were 2-4 in 2020 and didn't face Ohio State due to COVID-19 is- sues within the U-M program. Michigan has since turned things around the last three seasons by winning 38 of its last 41 games, including three over Ohio State, and the hires of defensive coordinators Mike Macdonald (2021) and Jesse Minter (2022-present) have been huge reasons why. Day & Co. didn't just fail to hang 100 on Michigan the next time the two programs played, the Buckeyes have hit only 74 combined points in their last three meetings against U-M — losses in 2021 (42-27), 2022 (45-23) and 2023 (30-24). Ohio State had scored 62 and 56 in the 2018 and 2019 meetings alone — quite the difference. When Minter, then Vanderbilt's de- fensive coordinator, interviewed with Jim Harbaugh after Macdonald returned to the Baltimore Ravens following the 2021 campaign, the Michigan head man asked him to present how he'd attack the Buckeyes. "Any time you go somewhere, you assess, what's the thing that's kept this place from reaching the highest goals that you might have? Particularly, it was that game [against Ohio State]," Minter said. "There were so many wins and a lot of success and a lot of really good de- fense. I mean, No. 1 defense in the coun- try, top five. But is it set up to beat the team that you know you have to beat, that you're going to play in the last game of the season every year?" Minter, evidently, gave Harbaugh what he was looking for during the interview. And then he did again on Nov. 26, 2022, in Columbus and Nov. 25, 2023, in Ann Arbor. It started with the system, and then preparing every day throughout the season with the thought in the back of their mind, "What are you doing to beat Ohio State today?" "It's something you work on every day here. You work on it year-round," Minter said. "All the drills that we do, all the physicality. … It's a year-round thing, and it's really important. "Even after the game, you're already thinking about what you're going to do the next time you play them and the answers that you need to have for maybe some things you showed." REPLACING BIG NO. 65 Michigan senior right guard Zak Zinter was named a consensus All-American, and he'll be sorely missed after he went down with a broken leg in a 30-24 win over rival Ohio State Nov. 25. The Wolverines rallied after Zinter was injured, with senior running back Blake Corum scoring a 22-yard touchdown to break a 17-17 tie on the very next play. The offensive line also paved the way for an eight-minute field goal scoring drive that kept the Buckeyes' offense off the field until there was a minute to go in the fourth quarter. Graduate Karsen Barn- hart slid down from right tackle to right guard, classmate Trente Jones came in at his original spot and both were key in the victory. The results were a bit dif- ferent the following week, when the Wolverines' offense sputtered quite a bit in a 26-0 win over Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game. They rushed for a season-low 66 yards and surrendered 4 sacks. "Uncharacteristically, we had some drops, and unchar- acteristically, we had some protection issues and things that we'll work on. And defi- nitely, Zak was missed," head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "[Quarterback] J.J. McCar- thy never hung his head, never got on anybody. He has just got this demeanor, that the more you hit him, the more he is just mo- tivated to come back, which is amazing." With more than four weeks in be- tween that game and the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl against Alabama, the Wolverines should be able to heal up, including Mc- Carthy, who was banged up toward the end of the regular season. The new-look right of the offensive line will also have the chance to mesh. Barnhart hadn't taken reps at right guard during the season, and Jones was used more as an extra lineman than he was at a traditional position while games were in doubt. Michigan will have its work cut out for it against an Alabama defense that pressures quarterbacks on 33.7 percent of their dropbacks, which ranks 27th in the country per Sports Info Solu- tions. The group has also held nine of 13 teams it has played to fewer than 150 rushing yards. That includes previously top-ranked Georgia, which ran for only 78 yards (2.5 per carry) in a 27-24 SEC Championship Game loss. ❏ SAYFIE BLITZ ❱ CLAYTON SAYFIE Built To Beat The Buckeyes Michigan's swarming defensive unit ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing an average of only 9.46 points in 13 games prior to the Rose Bowl. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Staff writer Clayton Sayfie has covered Michigan athletics for The Wolverine since 2019. Contact him at Clayton.Sayfie and follow him on X (Twitter) @CSayf23.

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