The Wolverine

January 2024

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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66 THE WOLVERINE ❱ JANUARY 2024 I n his first year at Michigan, head coach Jim Harbaugh was posed with a hypotheti- cal question he wasn't expect- ing at one of his press confer- ences. Ready to move on from a tough loss to Michigan State — the "trouble with the snap" game in which MSU returned a bungled punt snap for a touch- down — he quickly changed the subject in a manner only Jim Harbaugh could. "I'm not into the 'if this, if that' type of scenarios,'" Har- baugh said. "If worms had ma- chine guns, then birds would be scared of them." Nine years later, one of those worms resurfaced after a 26-0 Michigan win over Iowa. Not only had they gotten their ammo, but they'd gone on the offensive. The Wolverines won their third straight Big Ten title as a result, and they were a confident and happy group at the postgame podium in Indianapolis. Not even Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti, who had suspended Harbaugh for the final three regular-season games and left quickly to a chorus of boos from Michigan fans after presenting the tro- phy to injured guard Zak Zinter, could put a damper on what Harbaugh and the coaches and players had built start- ing in 2021. "It just feels great," game MVP and defensive back Mike Sainristil (2 forced fumbles) said. "Guys like me and Blake [Corum], this is what we came back for, to have the success with this team. The brotherhood this team has is one I wouldn't give up for anything in the world, and this team is going down in history. "The way we go about our goals is you put everything into the next goal, and there's more work to put in and more ways to get better. Coach is probably go- ing to say it, but I'm going to say it first before he says it — the worm has turned around here." And make no mistake — the biggest of the birds were shaking in their boots heading into a Nov. 25 matchup against Michigan in Ann Arbor. Yes, we're talk- ing about Ohio State, which had owned the Wolverines for the better part of a decade and a half before Sainristil, se- nior running back Corum, Zinter, senior receiver Roman Wilson, and too many others to count put the first of three whippings on the Buckeyes in 2021. This year's beating in Ann Arbor, though — the third straight — might have been the most important. Amid rumblings that Ohio State had hired a private investigator to uncover an al- leged illegal on-site scouting and sign stealing operation, Michigan had to — had to — win this one to change the narrative. OSU fans, even head coach Ryan Day in an interview days before the game, more than hinted that "cheating" was the only reason the Wolverines had crushed the Buckeyes in consecutive years, even though Ohio State assistants acknowledged they'd changed their signs in 2022. "We've learned a lot about what's gone on the last two years … [but] I don't think it does any good to comment on it right now. There'll be a time and place for that," Day said in the week leading up to The Game. "What matters is this game and getting our guys prepared to go win it." To that point, the national narrative was all about U-M and sign stealing. The days and weeks that followed, though — sweet silence. There was im- mense pressure to prove to the rest of the country what they knew in Schembechler Hall — that they'd beaten the Buck- eyes because they were simply better. And despite having their kids interrogated by the NCAA in unprecedented fashion, their coach suspended a day before a big game with Penn State, and their name dragged through the mud constantly, they persevered and proved it. Offensive coordinator and line coach Sherrone Moore, filling in for Harbaugh as the head man, led three straight wins, and many could see another win over OSU coming. There was less red in Michigan Stadium Nov. 25 than any time in recent memory, less bravado … Yup. Those birds were scared. These Wolverines are different, well- armed (led by an elite signal-caller — finally — in junior J.J. McCarthy) and are now the Big Ten's unequivocal No. 1 program. And no, they're not surprised. "It's crazy to feel the energy in this building and in our building, in the room with the players," Moore said. "They're extremely excited to win the game, but they expected to win it." The worm has turned, indeed. ❑ INSIDE MICHIGAN ❱ CHRIS BALAS Worms Finally Got Machine Guns Offensive coordinator and line coach Sherrone Moore led Michigan to three straight wins as the interim head coach in November to launch the Wolverines into the postseason. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN Chris Balas has been with The Wolverine since 1997. Contact him at chris.balas and follow him on X (Twitter) @Balas _ Wolverine.

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