It was mocked, and understandably so.

Jim Harbaugh declaring on national TV after a brutal first half against Penn State that his team was about to embark on its “finest hour” was met with eye roll upon eye roll. To that point, Michigan hadn’t looked like a quality team, much less like a team who was capable of a “finest hour.”

Since then, though, it has indeed been one fine hour. Harbaugh might have come short of the comeback that was needed to keep Michigan’s B1G Championship and Playoff hopes alive, but his program turned a corner in a way that few could’ve expected.

In fact, you could actually make the case that since Harbaugh’s “finest hour” comment, Michigan has been more impressive than Ohio State.

Crazy, I know. After all, we’re talking about an Ohio State team that’s currently No. 1 in:

  • A) Scoring offense
  • B) Scoring defense
  • C) Margin of victory
  • D) The Playoff poll
  • E) All the above

It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”

The Buckeyes are 2 wins away from doing something that hasn’t been accomplished by a Power 5 team in the Playoff era. That is, go 9-0 in conference play and win a conference championship en route to the Playoff.

But it’s incredible to think that Michigan has been so dominant since that “finest hour” moment roughly 5 weeks ago.

(These numbers are if you took the second half against Penn State, which Michigan outscored the Lions 14-7 on the road, and made it a full game.)

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(Spreads covered was added because if we’re talking about being “impressive,” I think it’s worth mentioning that Michigan covering 4 consecutive spreads with ease is significant, though I realize the expectations for Ohio State were obviously higher.)

Those numbers are actually pretty even, but I’d argue that the strength of Michigan’s schedule has been better than Ohio State’s. Michigan outscored Penn State in Happy Valley in the second half — remember that’s where the cutoff is — and did so against a Lions team that was at full strength, whereas Ohio State’s win came at home and the mid-game Sean Clifford injury didn’t put the Lions at full strength.

Also, we’re talking about an Ohio State team that took one road trip since that “finest hour” comment, and it was to Rutgers. Michigan, in addition to outscoring/outplaying Penn State in the second half, went on the road and dominated Maryland (big deal), and more impressively, dominated 7-win Indiana in Bloomington.

(Yes, I realize that Ohio State dominated Indiana in Bloomington back in September. For the sake of this argument, we’re just talking about what’s been done since the “finest hour” comment.)

Want to see something really interesting? Shea Patterson, dare I say, has actually played just as well as Fields since halftime against Penn State.

Even though Fields has the rushing advantage — he averaged 38.5 rushing yards and has 2 rushing scores compared to Patterson’s 1 during that stretch — I’d again argue that the competition level Michigan faced was slightly tougher given the circumstances. Four of Patterson’s 5 opposing defenses rank among the top 40 in FBS in scoring compared to 2 for Fields. Also, 2.5 of Patterson’s games were on the road compared to the 1 game at Rutgers for Fields:

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Interesting it is because Fields has a legitimate Heisman Trophy argument thanks in part to how well he’s played the last month for the top-ranked Buckeyes. Patterson’s first half warranted more of an argument that he should be benched than in the distant Heisman conversation.

But here we are.

The question is an obvious one — does any of this matter? Like, let’s say Michigan has been the more impressive team the last 5 weeks. Doesn’t that go out the window when these teams meet on Saturday?

It could. Lord knows we’ve said this before about Michigan looking like the better team coming into this game. You could make a case that in 2015 and in 2018, the Wolverines entered “The Game” as the more consistent, proven team. At least in terms of how they played in the month or so entering the contest.

Obviously it didn’t matter in those instances. Michigan was dismantled by an average of 26 points in those games by the Buckeyes. And in 2016 and 2017 when I’d argue that Ohio State had fewer pre-game question marks than Michigan, those games were decided by an average of 7 points.

Momentum doesn’t win football games. If it did, an 11-0 start is probably still more momentum than the impressive run Michigan has been on since the “finest hour” comment.

However, an offense that has figured things out certainly has a better chance than whatever that was that Michigan called “offense” back in September. If Michigan really is comfortable in Josh Gattis’ offense, Saturday will be more of the same — efficient, turnover-free, balanced offense.

But maybe that’s not the hurdle Michigan needs to overcome. Perhaps the transformation of Don Brown’s defense will be the reason Ohio State’s offense is contained. We’re talking about a unit that despite its annual spot among the nation’s leaders in scoring, has allowed 41.3 points per game to Ohio State since Harbaugh’s arrival.

It’s no secret that Brown’s defense now features more zone than ever. He’s adapting with the times, and it’s paying off. Michigan enters Saturday ranked fourth in the country in passing yards allowed having held the likes of Clifford, Ian Book and Brian Lewerke to an average of 140 passing yards. The press-man coverage with a single high safety that’s synonymous with Brown is no longer the hard and fast approach. It’s what Ryan Day and the Buckeyes shredded last year for nearly 400 passing yards and 6 scores through the air.

Is that the tweak that’s finally going to make the difference for Michigan to end the streak? Who knows.

What I do know is there are a bunch of stats one can point that suggests Michigan will get over the hump on Saturday. The aforementioned “finest hour” numbers are there, as is the fact that OSU’s road opponents are a combined 16-28 this year, and only one of them clinched a bowl berth.

You could also point to what everyone was pointing to in the beginning of the season when Michigan was picked to win the B1G. Urban Meyer isn’t on the OSU sideline anymore. If that outweighs everything else we’ve seen from these teams this year, well, I apologize for wasting your time.

What won’t be a waste of your time? Watching how this all plays out on Saturday afternoon.

All Michigan fans can hope for is that Harbaugh’s “finest hour” comment came a few weeks too soon.