May 20, 2024

ANN ARBOUR, Michigan Late on a Saturday afternoon, the atmosphere in the media room of Michigan’s Crisler Centre was both contemplative and optimistic.

Michigan emerged victorious in the Big Ten East after defeating Ohio State. Given the potent roster the Wolverines returned with in 2023, the division title wasn’t shocking, but it did cap off an incredible campaign. Since 1997, the program’s final national championship season, Michigan had not defeated its rival three times in a row.

The Wolverines are hoping to win a national championship as they make their third straight trip to the Big Ten championship game.

SecurityMichigan’s victory on Saturday, 30-24, was secured by Rod Moore’s diving interception of an underthrown pass by Ohio State’s Kyle McCord. It also guaranteed a trip back to Indianapolis. However, Michigan’s journey’s detours have set this season apart from the team’s previous two championship runs.

According to quarterback J.J. McCarthy, “it’s been a lot.”

Due to two different suspensions, Michigan was able to win six of its twelve games without coach Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines. Since the NCAA started looking into an off-campus scouting/signal-stealing operation run by former staff member Connor Stalions in mid-October, the programme has been under close examination. Along with the usual challenges, there have been injuries to two important starters from the Ohio State game: cornerback Will Johnson and guard Zach Zinter. However, whether self-made or not,Michigan managed to overcome all the challenges that stood in its way and record 1,001 victories overall.

Running back Blake Corum stated, “No one cried, no one complained.” “We had to do this, that’s what it was like. The task must be completed, no matter what.”

And there’s still work to be done this Saturday when Michigan plays No. 17 Iowa. In the event of a victory, the Wolverines would become the first team in team history to win three consecutive Big Ten titles outright.

“It’s been a tremendous season, right in the exact position that we hoped for, that we worked so hard to be in,” Harbaugh said on Sunday. “We’re moving forward now. While not all of our objectives have yet been reached, many of them have.

These five elements, which enabled Michigan to successfully return to Indianapolis, may eventually help the Wolverines obtain the coveted national title.

1. A roster full of seasoned players that doesn’t falter, led by quarterback McCarthy

This Michigan team’s experience has been especially valuable in light of Harbaugh’s suspension and the intense media attention the programme has received. There are players with noteworthy field time or significant starts in almost every position group. Michigan responded by moving fifth-year lineman Karsen Barnhart to right guard and then sliding in another fifth-year player, Trende Jones, to take Barnhart’s spot at tackle, even after a devastating injury like Zinter’s against Ohio State. The offensive kept up its pace.

“We’re always talking about the best five guys, or the six guys, whoever it is,” the line’s supervisor, Sherrone Moore, remarked.

This season, McCarthy’s astuteness has been evident, as Michigan has required different performance from him than it did in 2022, when the team relied on running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. Following a stellar start in which he completed 75.7% of passes for 2,134 yards and 18 touchdowns in Michigan’s first nine games, he failed to attempt a pass in the final minutes of the game against Penn State as the Wolverines ran 32 straight plays. Then, following a lacklustre showing against Maryland the previous week, McCarthy played an almost flawless precision passing game against Ohio State, finishing 16 of 20 passes for 148 yards and a thread-the-needle touchdown to Roman Wilson. After completing 12 of 12 passes for five yards or less, he tied the record for most at-bat completion percentage in a game with five.

Bo Nix from Oregon for the majority of the FBS. His agility was especially noticeable against the quick Buckeyes defence.

“I told him before the game: ‘Listen, when the game matters in some critical situations, I’m going to put the ball in your hands, because I know you’re going to make a great decision,'” Moore recalled. “I know where his mindset is at, especially on those critical downs.”

2. Moore’s advancement as a mentor

At Michigan, Harbaugh has typically selected qualified employees. Many of his former assistants are now head coaches or are in the NFL. His projected staff for 2023 looked good, particularly with two young coordinators in Moore and Jesse Minter (2022 Broyles Award finalist). When the season began in the late spring, Michigan had no idea how much of it would be lost without Harbaugh and how much the team would have to rely on the rest of the coaching staff.

The 37-year-old Moore was the obvious choice to lead Michigan on game days during the stretch run, despite the fact that he had never served as a head coach before joining as a coordinator in 2021. Moore adopted a sensible conservatism in an emotionally chargedcharged matchup with Penn State, an offensive unit not prepared to seriously challenge Michigan but a defence full of NFL talent and aggressive. He helped Michigan overcome a shaky showing against Maryland, where the Terrapins needed points in all three phases to win.

Love you and be you are the two things Harbaugh wanted Moore to know before the Ohio State game. The latter meant to call plays with greater aggression. During three fourth-down situations, Moore kept the offence on the field and converted; twice during a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that gave Michigan a 14-3 lead in the second quarter. Additionally, he scored a 20-yard run on a halfback pass from Edwards to tight end Colston Loveland for 34 yards to start the fourth quarter. Orji was used as a “change-up” quarterback.

“Coach Moore said from the get-go that he’s going to call the most aggressive game he’s ever called,” McCarthy stated. Just knowing that makes the big boys, Blake, and me happy is like listening to music.

that he believes we can go get that extra yard or those two yards. Because that is who we are, it means everything.”

According to Harbaugh, Ohio State’s defence was the best he had ever seen, and Michigan’s strategy needed ingenuity.

There’s not a single thing about the way he called that game or the choices he made in that kind of

atmosphere, that level of strain,” Harbaugh remarked.

Without Harbaugh, Moore’s 3-0 Big Ten run demonstrated his readiness to take the reins as head coach. Moore has shown to be a very capable candidate to take over at Michigan, whenever that time comes, given the uncertainty surrounding Harbaugh’s future. Harbaugh has interviewed for NFL jobs each of the last two winters and is probably going to face another NCAA suspension if he returns to Michigan in 2024.

3. A deep defensive line with few standout players

Aidan Hutchinson, a defensive end, led Michigan to victory in 2021, the team’s first Big Ten championship in 17 years. He finished strong, finishing second in the Heisman Trophy competition and securing his place as a top pick in the NFL draught. Additionally

The 2023 line might not be remembered for its big names, but it will be remembered for its depth, skill, experience and performances in big games. No Michigan defensive lineman has more than 5.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss or five quarterback hurries, but eight have at least 1.5 sacks and seven have multiple QB hurries.

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There have been expected contributions from veterans such as tackle Kris Jenkins and end Jaylen Harrell, but sophomore Mason Graham has emerged into a surprise star — he’s tied for the team lead with 6.5 tackles for loss and has contributed three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. The California native was an ESPN three-star recruit who originally committed to Boise State. And Josaiah Stewart, a Coastal Carolina transfer, has been a valuable addition on the edge.

Kenneth Grant, a 339-pound sophomore, has contributed 2.5 sacks, 5 quarterback hurries and 4 pass breakups, and drew national attention when he raced down Penn State running back Kaytron Allen, saving a possible touchdown and wowing Harbaugh and his teammates.

“We get ourselves just ready for the moment, and when that moment comes, we know what we’re going to do,” Graham said. “That’s a big part of our team in handling adversity.”

4. Those who stayed have positioned Michigan for more championships

The famous Bo Schembechler line that appears everywhere around Michigan’s program — “Those who stay will be champions” — has taken on new and added meaning. Michigan had several players pass up potential NFL opportunities to return for another run at a Big Ten title and the CFP. The “One More Year” fund, started by the Champions Circle NIL collective, helped the program retain standouts such as Corum, Zinter, Jenkins, offensive lineman Trevor Keegan and wide receiver Cornelius Johnson. Michigan also brought back other accomplished players, such as defensive back Mike Sainristil and linebacker Michael Barrett. The Wolverines had only three underclassmen enter the NFL draft — Smith, Morris and cornerback D.J. Turner.

All of Michigan’s returnees have made significant contributions this fall. Sainristil is an All-America candidate, recording five interceptions and five pass breakups, while Barrett leads the team in both forced fumbles (three) and fumble recoveries (two). Johnson recorded his third consecutive season of 32 or more receptions. Zinter and Keegan have anchored a line for a remarkably balanced offense that averages 37.6 points per game.

Although Corum’s overall rushing production (976 yards) doesn’t match what he did last season (1,463), he has gained the most critical yards, setting a Michigan single-season record with 22 rushing touchdowns.

“I just look back and pray that I left a legacy, I stamped my mark here, I made a difference, on and off the field,” Corum said. “Looking back at [the Ohio State game], this is why I came back. I couldn’t go out in the Big House like I did last year, hurt. I’m so appreciative for the University of Michigan.”

5. Special teams remain solid

Michigan didn’t enter the season with many glaring concerns, but special teams carried some question marks after kicker Jake Moody and punter Brad Robbins both were selected in the NFL draft. The Wolverines became only the second team in the past 40 years to have two specialists picked in the same draft. Moody, the 2021 Lou Groza Award winner and Michigan’s career scoring leader, seemed to be a particularly big loss.

But the Wolverines have continued to shine in the kicking game. On Saturday against Ohio State, James Turner went 3-for-3 on field goals, including a 50-yarder early in the third quarter, while Ohio State’s Jayden Fielding missed from 52 yards out to end the first half. Tommy Doman averaged 63.3 yards per punt, placing one at the Ohio State 2-yard line late in the opening half.

“He was money,” Corum said of Turner. “He was calm, cool and collected, hit all of them. Couldn’t ask for a better kicker than my guy, so jolly good fellow to him.”

Turner, a Louisville transfer, is 12-for-14 on field goal attempts this season and 8-for-8 from within 40 yards. Doman averaged 45 yards per punt with 18 fair catches and 14 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Although Michigan isn’t exceptional on returns, Jake Thaw and Tyler Morris have been a solid tandem on punt runbacks, and the coverage teams haven’t had any busts. The Wolverines’ special teams play shined at Maryland, as they blocked a punt for a safety and downed a Doman punt inside the Terrapins’ 1-yard line, leading to another late safety.

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