Michigan football: My 10 favorite moments from the 2020 season
Let’s face it: The 2020 version of Michigan football didn’t leave much to brag about. The 2-4 finish, quarterback fiasco and overall poor performance didn’t impress too many onlookers. In fact, the Wolverines were the subject of jokes for much of the truncated season.
It is what it is.
Rather, it was what it was.
This piece isn’t going to blow sunshine up your skirt, but it will highlight some memorable moments from the six-game run for the Wolverines. Some moments were funny — some could have been filed under the “dark comedy” section — and some were serious. Some were inspiring, while others were … well … not so inspiring.
Here are 10 moments from the Wolverines’ 2020 season that stick in the mind — or, in the mud, depending on interpretation.
This was messy, ugly and unnecessarily dramatic. Either Harbaugh wanted to stay, or he didn’t. Either Michigan wanted him to remain in Ann Arbor, or it didn’t. As it turned out, AD Warde Manuel had enough confidence in Harbaugh, who just inked an extension that will take him through the 2025 season. With a slim buyout of $4 million, speculation about another possible departure will surely pick up if the Wolverines fall on their faces within the next couple of seasons.
Day 100 – Say what?!
This was gold. For the most part, coaches like to keep it PC and not provide bulletin board material. Well, Ohio State coach Ryan Day scoffed at that notion when he jokingly — but yet very seriously — said that his Buckeyes might “hang 100” points on the Wolverines. That figure seems a bit outlandish, but 70-something probably would have been probable, considering the Buckeyes demolished Clemson, 49-28, during the 2021 Sugar Bowl CFP semifinal.
Day’s comment was some of the most intense heat directed at Michigan from Ohio State in some time. It was the ultimate disrespect in all senses of the word. But it was hilarious.
The truth hurts, right? Day wasn’t holding back words. The Buckeyes would have mopped the floor with the Wolverines.
McNamara — Incumbent starter
Despite a right shoulder injury vs. Penn State, Michigan redshirt freshman QB Cade McNamara was one of few bright spots for Michigan this past season. After Joe Milton — the starter for the first 5 games — threw two straight picks on his first two attempts against Rutgers — helping lead to a 17-0 deficit — McNamara bossed-up and dug his team out of a hole.
Michigan won in triple-overtime, 48-42, and McNamara emerged as the clear QB to beat during the 2021 race.
Harbaugh has only had two incumbent starters during his 6-year tenure at Michigan: Wilton Speight (2016-17) and Shea Patterson (2018-2019). Having a known starter heading into the next season is definitely a positive for the Wolverines, who’ve struggled under Harbaugh to develop true star QBs.
Staff changes — They had to go
Don Brown, defensive coordinator, and Ben McDaniels, QB coach, were let go at the conclusion of the 2020 season. Brown’s defenses were eaten alive at every turn in 2019 and 2020, and McDaniels just couldn’t get things truly on track with the quarterbacks. Their dismissals were necessary and didn’t come as a surprise in the least bit.
Brown joined former Michigan passing game coordinator/OC Jedd Fisch in Arizona, where Fisch has accepted the head coaching position.
On Jan. 11, the contracts of several assistants expired. Official word has yet to come on their status, but rest assured that the Wolverines’ staff will look a lot different in 2020.
Charbonnet 70-yard run vs. Minnesota/win over Gophers — UM was ‘back’
According to RB Hassan Haskins, the Wolverines returned with a bang by beating Minnesota, 49-24, during Week 1 of the season.
“We’re back, you feel me?” Haskins said during a postgame Zoom.
His fellow running mate, Zach Charbonnet, had arguably the best the play on either side of the ball for Michigan this past fall, ringing up a 70-yard touchdown run vs. the Gophers. Untouched. Unscathed. Unbothered. Charbonnet was silky smooth during that run and, at the time, that was supposedly a sign of big things to come for Michigan.
That win hyped-up a fanbase and the national media. Big plays were going to be a staple of UM … nope. It was a rocket launch accompanied by a tragic loss-at-sea crash. It was a good moment because it gave at least a small glimpse at the Wolverines’ potential. Well, potential potential.
2020 early signing period — UM gets its men
Michigan nabbed everyone that it expected to nab during the early signing period, including 5-star QB JJ McCarthy. The Wolverines even secured 4-star WR Xavier Worthy — who many thought would bolt to Georgia — and 4-star RB Donovan Edwards during the first day of the early period — along with everyone else that was expected to commit.
Harbaugh notched a No. 11 overall class and found a QB to challenge McNamara in 2021. It was a win across the board for the Wolverines.
Josh Ross — Mr. Steady
Automatic and systematic. Josh Ross was unquestionably the shining star on Michigan’s defense, anchoring the group with a team-high 1 sack — yeah, that was the team-high — team-leading 53 tackles and 1 interception returned for 18 yards.
Ross, a senior linebacker, will be sorely missed by the Wolverines, who relied upon his steady play and steady mind. Ross will undoubtedly go down as one of the best Harbaugh-era linebackers.
Ronnie Bell — The rise of a slept-on prospect
If you can’t appreciate Ronnie Bell’s rise, you can’t appreciate the true essence of college athletics. A lightly recruited 3-star WR who was viewed as more of a basketball player, Bell has become one of the Wolverines’ top offensive weapons. He had a team-high 26 catches and 401 yards to go with 1 TD.
He went from doubted entering Michigan, to playing in 13 games as a true freshman in 2018, to evolving into a true threat for Michigan’s offense.
Hassan Haskins — Emerging No. 1 RB
Michigan needs to know who’ll carry the load at several positions in 2021, and Hassan Haskins appears to be the leader in the running back room. With a team-high 375 yards and 6 TDs, Haskins provided answers for a stagnant running game. Had he played an entire schedule, it’s possible that he could have finished with nearly 800 yards and 10-12 rushing scores.
Brad Hawkins returning — Leadership in the secondary
Michigan’s secondary was awful in 2020, ranking No. 13 in the 14-team Big Ten. This past week, Hawkins, a safety, announced that he’d return for his final year of eligibility in Ann Arbor. The will-be 5th-year senior had 40 tackles in 2020, second-most among Wolverines DBs. Daxton Hill, also a safety, led all secondary members with 44 stops.
There wasn’t a lot to really praise about Michigan in 2020, but the aforementioned examples were really the only positives to come out of an otherwise disappointing, comically sad 6-game run through the Big Ten.