The Wolverine

October 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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74 THE WOLVERINE OCTOBER 2016 M ichigan head coach Jim Harbaugh wasn't in Ann Arbor the last time the Wolverines' football team was in the precarious posi‑ tion they found themselves on Sept. 17 — specifically, down 21‑7 at home to a team they were heavily fa‑ vored to beat. He was 17 years old and in high school on the West Coast, where his father, Jack, was the defensive coordinator at Stanford, a year before he'd move the family back to Michigan and take the head coaching job at Western Michigan. Harbaugh was on the other side of the country, but he's often said his love for the Wolverines never waned. Chances are, however, the young Harbaugh was listening on the radio (not every game was televised back then) when Illinois quarterback Tony Eason led the Illini on three first‑quar‑ ter touchdown drives to punch the Wolverines in the mouth, and then hit a few more passes to move Illinois deep into Michigan territory. That game probably wasn't on his mind when Colorado, up by 14 points, drove deep into Michigan ter‑ ritory early in the second quarter, but the similarities are almost eerie. De‑ fensive back Jerry Burgei picked off a pass to stall the drive and kick‑start the Wolverines in a 70‑21 win over the Illini 35 years earlier. Against the Buffaloes in 2016, U‑M's defense rose to the occasion for a stop, forced a missed field goal and proceeded to win 45‑28. "I think there are teams that are frontrunners, and that's the only time they can play well — when they're out in front," Harbaugh said after the win. "It's clean, and it's easy. There are other guys who kind of like get‑ ting in the mud and fighting in a football fight type of way … they en‑ joy that kind of test and competitive environment." Schembechler was one of those guys, and Harbaugh — if you didn't know it by now — is, too. He was nicknamed Captain Comeback during his NFL days with the Indianapolis Colts for a reason, and he often was at his most confident — like guarantee‑ ing a win over Ohio State in 1986 — when his back was against the wall. So there was no panic on the Michi‑ gan sideline when his Wolverines were reeling early. Like his men‑ tor, Schembechler, did in 1981 and throughout his career, Harbaugh looked for ways to fix the problem "Coach talked about the best way to deal with adversity is to not have it, so we were hoping to come out and not have any adversity," redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Spei‑ ght said. "Is that realistic? Maybe not. "When you look at yourself as a good team, maybe a great team, you want to avoid it as much as possible. We didn't really do anything today at the beginning, but we looked that ad‑ versity in the eye and came back at it." It's how you respond after all, senior linebacker Ben Gedeon added, not‑ ing it was "inevitable" that it would happen again. Even the best teams in a given year will have moments in which they'll have to play through a sluggish performance, and in a long season, you're not always going to be at your best. Those who succumb to the pressure, like No. 13 Iowa in a 23‑21 home loss to North Dakota State on Sept. 17, find themselves on the outside looking in on the national scene. Those who rise up — like No. 2 Clemson, which pulled out a 30‑24 win over Troy on Sept. 10, and then No. 1 Al‑ abama, which came from 21 down to win at Ole Miss on Sept. 17 — live to improve and fight another day. For all that's changed in 35 years of college football — and it's plenty — one thing hasn't: champion‑ ships can be lost in Septem‑ ber, but they aren't won until November. Schembechler knew it, and Harbaugh knows it. "We talked about it after our second game last week and after our first game the week before. There's always concern," he said after the win over Colorado. "Where can we get better? Where can we get a mile per hour faster? Where can we improve? "Do you want to use the word concern? Yeah. We're concerned to get better. We're striving to get better. Whichever word you choose to say, it's fundamentally important to us to improve as much as we can, as fast as we can do it." As another former Michigan coach, Lloyd Carr, used to say, "It's not a game of perfect." Mistakes will be made. The teams that fight back, though, are the ones that have a chance to be special, and there's plenty to like about the way the Wolverines did just that in their first test of the year. The old coach would have been proud. ❏ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997, working part time for five years before joining the staff full time in 2002. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter at Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS Bo's Lasting Lesson Jim Harbaugh (left) channeled his old coach, Bo Schembechler (right), in Michigan's comeback win over Colorado Sept. 17. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS

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