Michigan's dominance in B1G Championship Game is evidence Jim Harbaugh has most unique, united team in the nation
A brief silence swept across the media room as Jim Harbaugh and Aidan Hutchinson sat at the table after winning a B1G championship. Before any reporter could voice the next question, the Michigan head coach asked one of his own.
“Can I just say one thing?” Harbaugh said.
In his seventh season as the head coach at Michigan and leading the program to its first B1G title in nearly 20 years, Harbaugh had every right to focus on his team’s performance in a 42-3 win over Iowa. Instead, he used that brief pause to talk about the character of his players.
“On top of being great football players, they’re even better people. And I’ve always felt that I’ve drawn the long straw here in being able to coach them. They’re a joy to coach,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve been raised great by their parents. So I’m not taking any part of that credit. But there’s been zero distractions in Schembechler Hall, off the field. And that’s going on, you know, three or four years now of no off-field incidents. Just guys that are — of high character. Great football players, even better people.”
An hour earlier, Hutchinson was standing on the podium next to Joel Klatt, being honored as the Most Valuable Player of the B1G Championship Game. He became the first defensive player in the 11-year history of the conference’s title game to receive the award.
In the background, Hutchinson’s teammate sparked a “Hutch for Heisman” chant, echoing off every wall inside the building.
Those two moments were a culmination of what most of us missed throughout the course of the season. The questions were always focused on how Michigan might fall short rather than why it could win a B1G title. But it was on full display Saturday night.
“Unique” and “united” are the best words to describe Michigan this season, and it’s the reason the Wolverines hoisted the B1G trophy into the air as confetti showered down onto the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Harbaugh’s most unique team yet
Michigan didn’t need much time to show off its explosiveness on Saturday.
On the second drive of the game, Blake Corum ripped off a 67-yard touchdown run to put Michigan ahead 7-0 early in the first quarter. After forcing an Iowa 3-and-out, the Wolverines opened up the playbook.
Cade McNamara hit Donovan Edwards on a swing pass and the freshman running back launched the ball downfield and hit Roman Wilson for a 75-yard touchdown.
The lead was only 14-0, but it felt like that play ended the game.
Michigan didn’t score the rest of the half, relying on the defense to get stops to secure a lead through 30 minutes. Iowa was winning the battle of field position thanks to punter Tory Taylor, but the Wolverines buckled down in the most important moments.
With a 14-3 lead, Michigan delivered a knockout blow on its first possession of the third quarter. A 10-play, 82-yard drive capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run by Hassan Haskins to make it a 3-score game.
Two explosive plays in the first half. A long, methodical drive to open the third quarter. All against one of the B1G’s top defensive units. Michigan’s uniqueness — particularly on offense — was on full display.
Saturday was a microcosm of what we’ve seen from Michigan all season, though. It wasn’t just a 1-night wonder.
Haskins scored 20 rushing touchdowns this year, setting a new single-season record for the Wolverines. Corum has proven to be a home-run threat whenever he touches the ball. Edwards has been willing to do whatever is asked in order to make the offense more difficult to predict.
McNamara graduated from game manager to legitimate aerial threat. He had plenty of weapons to throw to, with Cornelius Johnson, Erick All, Luke Schoonmaker, Andrel Anthony Mike Sainristill and Wilson also stepping up after Ronnie Bell’s injury in the season opener.
The offensive line is the best in the B1G.
As good as all those players were this season, none matched what Hutchinson did on the other side of the football. He was clearly the top dog in Michigan’s locker room and has earned every ounce of recognition he’s received.
Hutchinson ended the B1G Championship Game with 4 tackles, 2 quarterback hurries and a sack in Michigan’s win. He embarrassed Iowa’s offensive line at times, pressuring Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla 7 times throughout the course of the game.
The defensive end has now collected 14 sacks this season, another Michigan record. He’s worked his way into the Heisman Trophy conversation and could end up being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
When Hutchinson wasn’t terrorizing the Hawkeyes, it was Josh Ross, who totaled 9 stops. Daxton Hill, Jaylen Harrell and David Ojabo all registered a tackle for loss.
It’s what the Michigan defense has been doing all season.
Unlike previous Michigan teams under Harbaugh, the 2021 version was capable of hurting opponents in multiple ways. The offense could hit on big plays or it could grind out 10-play drives. The defense was capable of suffocating opponents at any given time.
All of it came together over the last two weeks. The result is a win over Ohio State, a B1G title and a trip to the College Football Playoff.
A team that plays for each other
There was a theme throughout the postgame press conferences Saturday night. It essentially slapped you in the face when you walked into the room — Michigan is a team full of guys playing for each other.
“Just the way we built the team, the foundation, the high energy throughout the whole offseason,” Hutchinson said about winning the B1G title. “I mean, that doesn’t amount to wins, but, you know, it amounts to the culture and the investment of the guys on the team.”
After Hutchinson’s time with the press was up, Corum sat the table after rushing for 74 yards and a touchdown on 5 carries. He came armed with praise for the guy who had just been sitting in the chair seconds earlier.
“He should win the Heisman,” Corum said of Hutchinson. “He showed the world why he should be the Heisman. … I think he should be No. 1 in the (NFL) Draft.”
Then, McNamara walked through the door. Trophy in hand and a smile on his face, the starting quarterback echoed similar praises for his teammates for the magical 12-1 run.
He was also quick to mention Harbaugh.
“One of the first things I thought of after we won was Coach Harbaugh,” McNamara said. “After last season, it was so tough, not just for us players but for Coach Harbaugh as well, and we know that there’s not one person who cares about Michigan more than Coach Harbaugh.
“This team, we came together. We want to win for Coach Harbaugh too, and we’re just so happy that we were able to give him back that joy because he deserves it.”
One thing was clear after Michigan claimed its first B1G title in nearly two decades: this is a team built on trust. Coaches and players — from the beginning of the season — believed in each other when nobody else did.
The doubt united Michigan. That’s what made the Wolverines so unique.