B1G Monday Morning: Jim Harbaugh has his swag back, and Michigan suddenly has a viable path to the national title game
When Jim Harbaugh was hired in 2015, he had this brash confidence about him. It was going to be Harbaugh vs. Urban Meyer for Big Ten supremacy, year after year. He was the talk of the sport, constantly generating headlines for his boldness. Remember the satellite camps? The sleepovers at recruits’ houses?
But heading into Year No. 7, which was preceded by Harbaugh taking a pay cut, you almost felt bad for the guy. Before the season, when asked about Ohio State, he answered, “We’re going to do it or die trying.”
So when the day finally arrived, the day that Michigan fans probably started to doubt would ever come, Harbaugh reverted to that cocky SOB, and I mean that in the most endearing way possible. When asked about Ryan Day and Ohio State wanting to hang 100 on Michigan, as Day said last year, Harbaugh had this to say after his 42-27 win:
“Let’s move on with humble hearts, take the high road,” he said. “There’s definitely stuff that people said that spurred us on even more. There are people standing on third base who think they hit a triple.”
Jim Harbaugh says some of the comments and other bulletin board material by Ohio State only motivated his team.
"Sometimes people who are standing on third base think they hit a triple, but they didn't." pic.twitter.com/yKAPjeRWEt
— TheWolverine.com (@TheWolverineMag) November 27, 2021
The genius in the comment, of course, is that he says he’s going to be humble and 2 sentences later does the exact opposite. Well done, Jim.
Coming into this game, I argued that the sport of college football badly needed Michigan to win this game, just for the sake of getting some new blood (and a great, passionate fan base) into the conversation, instead of the same old teams. But I don’t think I realized how badly college football needed Michigan to win this to get the old Jim Harbaugh back. He dominated college football coverage for a few years, but he had faded into the background the last few years as he fell short of expectations. After last year’s 2-4 debacle, I think most, including myself, thought Michigan would (and should) move on.
So to see Harbaugh spouting off like that once again is great. What happens on the field obviously matters, but the off-field stuff in college football is so unique. And a great rivalry like this needs pettiness, and college football needs these big personalities to drive headlines.
Harbaugh will be everywhere the next few weeks because, in case you haven’t noticed, Michigan not only has a viable path to the national championship game, it is probably the favorite to get there along with Georgia. It’s quite a year for Michigan to put it all together, since we are heading toward a College Football Playoff without Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma and probably Alabama, assuming the latter loses to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Michigan is a 10.5-point favorite over Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game and would probably be a touchdown favorite over Cincinnati in a potential 2 vs. 3 matchup in the CFP semifinals.
It’s wild that just a year ago, folks were accusing Michigan of dodging Ohio State when the game was canceled due to COVID because the Wolverines would’ve been overmatched physically and athletically in that one. To anyone that watched Saturday, that clearly was not the case in 2021. Michigan, as it has been pretty much all season, was the better team for the majority of the game. The Wolverines bullied Ohio State up front, so much so that John Madden reportedly texted Harbaugh that it was “as good an offensive line performance as he’s seen.”
Combined with the persistent Hassan Haskins, who has put this offense on his back without Blake Corum, it turned into a massacre of the Ohio State defense the likes of which we haven’t seen since, well, the Oregon game. Michigan’s 297 rushing yards and 7.2 yards per carry, and Ohio State’s inability to stop it, were the story.
On a larger scale, I wonder whether Michigan’s milestone win will serve as a reminder to the rest of college football that you don’t always have to tear it all down. It should. To see some of college football’s best programs go through coaches every 4 years is maddening. Athletic director Warde Manuel obviously made the right decision in retaining Harbaugh, and the rest is history.
This has a little Miracle on Ice feel, doesn’t it? Michigan can’t forget, it has to beat Finland next week. Iowa is a worthy opponent, and a loss would kill the buzz. Overall, though, it feels as if Michigan has already won in the grand scheme. It prevented its arch nemesis from winning the Big Ten and going to the CFP. It doesn’t get much sweeter than that.
It’s going to be fascinating to see the fallout at Ohio State after this loss. There will certainly be a shakeup to Ohio State’s defensive staff; heck, Ryan Day demoted defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs after 1 loss, and this was even worse.
On a grander scale, though, Ohio State fans will look back at this team and cringe with the way it ended. This was an all-time offense with 3 first-round receivers, one of the top running backs in the country, a Heisman contender at QB and multiple future pros on the offensive line. Even after an off day, the Buckeyes still have the No. 1 offense in the country in terms of yards per game and yards per play by a significant margin.
It kind of feels like 2015 in a way just with how much talent is on this team and how both fell short of winning the Big Ten. This year, though, Ohio State was clearly the inferior team twice, and it deserves to be left home come Playoff time. Sure, it would’ve been interesting to see Ohio State in a 12-team Playoff because no one would’ve wanted to play the Buckeyes, but this is life in a 4-teamer.
The strange thing about Ohio State this year is that there wasn’t the steadiness of the past few years. There were some games where the Buckeyes looked like a national championship team, and there were others where they looked entirely beatable. There wasn’t much in between.
Michigan’s win was so important to the rest of the Big Ten because it had been since 2018 since the Buckeyes had even lost to a B1G team. See, it can be done.
But the important thing to remember is that Ohio State is going to be just as good, if not better, next year.
Think about all the turnover they had in compiling the No. 1 offense in the country. It didn’t matter that the Buckeyes lost Heisman contender Justin Fields; they plugged in a redshirt freshman in CJ Stroud who had never thrown a college pass, and he turned into a Heisman contender. They had 2 offensive linemen (Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis) taken in the top 3 rounds, and Ohio State’s line is perhaps even better this year; they lost their star running back (Trey Sermon) to the NFL, and they brought in an even better freshman (TreVeyon Henderson). Ohio State has the No. 1 offense in the country and was a legit threat to win it all. This season has showed us that it doesn’t matter how much Ohio State loses from its roster because it has so much high-end talent on the bench waiting for an opportunity.
That’s all to say, enjoy Ohio State not being in the B1G title game next week while you can. See, it won’t matter that Ohio State loses star wideouts Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, or star lineman Thayer Munford.
The Buckeyes need to fix their defense this offseason, and if they do, it’ll take a Michigan-esque effort to beat them.
Minnesota 23, Wisconsin 13. This is the type of performance that will leave Badgers fans scratching their heads this offseason. They were the best team in the West, riding a 7-game winning streak, and all they needed was a win over rival Minnesota to finish an improbable turnaround to reach the Big Ten Championship Game. Instead, a team that Wisconsin beat by 20 points is going to the title game. I don’t know if anyone would pick Iowa if they played Wisconsin this week, but that’s how the cookie crumbles.
The Badgers have an elite defense, once again, but just like Iowa, they need to re-evaluate the offense this offseason. Mainly, what are their goals? Among the puzzling moves: They initially lined up to punt on fourth-and-1 with less than 5 minutes left in the game while down 2 scores. Paul Chryst needs to bring in an offensive coach who can ignite this offense that turned into “give the ball to Braelon Allen every play.” Allen is a stud, so I see the logic, but there has to be a plan for when that doesn’t work. Minnesota was ready for it, limiting Allen to 47 yards on 17 attempts, ending his streak of 7 straight 100-yard games.
Graham Mertz finished the regular season with more interceptions (10) than TD passes (9). It’s not all his fault, though. Wisconsin’s receivers have struggled with drops, and Chryst runs a predictable offense.
Anything short of a West title is a failure for Wisconsin, so technically that label fits, even if the Badgers had an impressive turnaround.
No. 12 Michigan State 30, Penn State 27. I wonder if it ever crossed the minds of Mel Tucker and James Franklin as they plowed the hash marks: “We could’ve been in SoCal or the South.” Hope not, because these guys feasibly could be coaching against one another in 2030.
This one came down to this play; fourth-and-15 from the 20, just over 5 minutes left and it’s too snowy to kick a field goal. And Payton Thorne, once again, made a big-time throw to Jayden Reed. Even potentially without Kenneth Walker III next year, this duo is the biggest reason Michigan State will have a potent offense once again.
Payton Thorne finds Jayden Reed on 4th and 15 for the TD 😮 pic.twitter.com/leoOOhE5Xz
— ESPN (@espn) November 27, 2021
1. Hassan Haskins/Michigan’s offensive line
A performance for the ages. The line paved the way for 297 yards, 169 of which came from Haskins. He became the first player ever to run for 5 TDs against Ohio State, and he even managed to sneak in one of his signature hurdles, too.
Hassan Haskins HURDLE pic.twitter.com/UQnRgGf6Sf
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) November 27, 2021
2. QB Aidan O’Connell (Purdue)
What a late-season resurgence. Is there a B1G QB playing as well as O’Connell over the last month? After 277 yards and 4 TDs in the 44-7 win against Indiana, he has 16 TD passes and no INTs over the last 5 games.
O’Connell ➡️ Bell
That is 4️⃣ passing touchdowns on the day for Aidan O’Connell.#RotoRadarCFB is on fire yet again! 🔥
— RotoRadar (@RotoRadar) November 27, 2021
3. QB Taulia Tagovailoa (Maryland)
Tagovailoa got Maryland to its first bowl game since 2016 by leading the Terrapins to a 40-16 win over Rutgers. He threw for 312 yards and 3 TDs, plus a rushing score.
Taulia Tagovailoa uses his legs to get in the end zone and give Maryland a 20-2 lead with 4:13 to go in the second quarter. pic.twitter.com/t6gYR0cL6O
— Testudo Times (@testudotimes) November 27, 2021
4. RB Tyler Goodson (Iowa)
If Iowa is going to beat Michigan, it will need Goodson to run like this again. He had a season-best 156 yards on 23 carries, the third time in the last 4 games that he has broke 130. That’s a great sign.
5. WR Isaiah Williams (Illinois)
The former 4-star QB recruit is finding his way as a receiver. He tallied 7 catches for 113 yards and a TD, plus a 21-yard rushing TD in the 47-14 rout of Northwestern. He is a terrific athlete, and Bret Bielema would be wise to get him as many touches as possible next season.
Isaiah Williams Touchdown pic.twitter.com/COU5tUo4LA
— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) November 27, 2021