Haskins Michigan Football

November 27, 2021 is a date that Michigan fans worldwide will remember forever.  Michigan has finally thrown a huge monkey off their back.  It is the Wolverines first win against the Buckeyes in a decade.  It is only their second win against the Buckeyes in 20 long arduous and painful years.  Keeping Jim Harbaugh around paid off.   The team continuity and persistence paid off.  Over the last 18 months many talking heads and fans have been calling for Jim Harbaugh’s head.  Fire Him!  He can’t win the big game!  Some might say these fans and pundits were justified due to past Harbaugh performance.  Well, now the critics are silenced, and the Wolverines took down an immensely talented Buckeyes team in the Big House in decisive fashion.  But this win didn’t happen overnight.  Nor was it a fluke win.  Let’s talk about how we got here.

Last year, in a pandemic shortened season, the Wolverines were pitiful.  They were worse than pitiful.  They were flat out awful.  They finished 2-4.  How do you recover from that?  Things had to change.  Philosophies had to change.  Mind sets had to change.  Coaches had to change.  That is exactly what happened.  Coach Jim Harbaugh restructured his contract and virtually fired his whole support staff replacing them with a younger, more vigorous, and more innovative staff.  He brought in Josh Gattis to lead the offense and Mike MacDonald to lead the defense.  Then, he got out of the way and let his young coaching staff work.  Harbaugh has never had an issue bringing in top notch recruits.  The issue has been getting all that talent to work together to win the big games.  

Michigan started the season unranked.  When you finish 2-4 that’s what you get in the preseason from the Associated Press.  It wasn’t until the third week of the season that Michigan broke into the top 25 at number 25.  After they beat Northern Illinois, they moved to number 19.  The following week they beat Rutgers moving them up to 14.  Then they beat Wisconsin at Camp Randall and folks began to take notice.  They were ranked ninth going into the Northwestern game.  After that win the Wolverines moved up to sixth and were facing the eight ranked Michigan State Spartans.

We all began to wonder if this was just another average Harbaugh year when Michigan lost to Michigan State in the waning seconds of the game.  The Spartans met the Wolverines head on proved to be the winner at the end, despite some questionable officiating.  Still, a loss is a loss, and it was another loss notched on Harbaugh’s watch.  Fans were visibly frustrated and they had a right to be.  So…what next?  Michigan only dropped to seventh in a great show of respect to how good the Spartans really were.  

Michigan moved back up to sixth place after defeating Indiana.  A week later we found ourselves in Happy Valley in a knockdown drag out fight against the Nittany Lions and came out victorious.  Okay!  We have some life!  After taking down the Terrapins the following week Michigan moved into 5th place, right outside the playoff window.  Uncle Mo was rolling on the side of Big Blue and we intended to capitalize on that momentum.  Thus, the stage was set.  Can the best Michigan team in ten years pull off a win against the Buckeyes with the playoffs on the line?  We nervously awaited the answer to that question until the calendar flipped to November 27th, 2021.

It was a crisp Saturday Michigan morning.  By 11 am, the snow flurries had already started and were covering the desk of the Big Noon Kickoff pregame show, hosts, and analysts.  By the time kickoff occurred a few minutes later, the snow was sticking to the grass.  With the snow falling, things were shaping up well for the physical Michigan Wolverine running attack.  The run game is exactly where Michigan started.  Taking the ball first, the Wolverines marched right down the field in 10 plays, five minutes and scored seven.  Six of the ten plays were run plays, three of which were 14 yards or more.  It was a huge warning shot to the Buckeyes for what type of afternoon they were in for.  Then, the Wolverine defense forced a three and out and we thought we were on our way!  Two plays later our elation was deflated when Cade McNamara threw a costly interception in the red zone.  14 to 0 was at their fingertips!  Let’s face it, we all knew it would not be that easy.  The Buckeyes converted that turnover to three points 12 plays later.  After that the game settled into a defensive battle until the Buckeyes went on a four play 56-yard touchdown drive in 99 seconds.  The Wolverines said enough of that and went on their own 12 play 82-yard touchdown drive.  The Buckeyes answered but with only a field goal.  At half time you had the feeling if the Wolverines could just run the ball and secure some successful play action pass-plays they could win this game.

To me the most critical point in a close game is the first possession of the third quarter.  The Wolverines must have agreed because their defense stormed out onto the field and forced a three and out and then scored a touchdown driving 81 yards on 3 plays.  What an awesome display of complimentary football!  Blake Corum came out and slashed the Buckeye defense for 55 yards the second play of that drive.  The Wolverines stoned the Buckeyes again, largely on the strength of Aidan Hutchinson’s sack forcing a fourth and 12.  The Wolverines drove another long field and scored again.  In fact, there is a pattern here.  The Wolverines scored a touchdown on every meaningful offensive possession in the second half.  The Wolverines executed their offense.  The defense only allowed two touchdowns forcing two punts and they forced the Buckeyes to turn the ball over on downs during the Buckeyes last offensive possession.  

Michigan played physical, dominating smashmouth football.  They ran the ball for 297 yards on 41 carries.  Two players were over 80 yards rushing and were led by Hassan Haskins who rushed for 169 yards on 28 carries and FIVE touchdowns.  He tied a Michigan versus Ohio State record for most touchdowns scored by one player in this rivalry game.  The Michigan offensive line put this game on their shoulders and blew open holes for Haskins to churn thru.  Blake Corum provided a tremendous change of pace gaining 87 yards on just six carries.  He has a different gear when he is on the field.  His play is remarkable given that he is still recovering from a leg injury.  

Defensively, Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo terrorized CJ Stroud, running him all over the field and sacking him four times.  The secondary almost collected two interceptions.  Overall, it was a fine defensive performance against three first round draft picks at the receiver position.  

As a lifelong 49ers fan, I have been watching Jim Harbaugh coach since his days at Stanford.  Saturdays Rivalry Game is a throwback game on so many levels.  It’s a throwback to old school Michigan Wolverine football from the 80’s and 90’s that we all know, love and revel in.  It’s a throwback game for Jim Harbaugh’s days at Stanford and in San Francisco.  He used to line his players up and hit their opponents in the mouth in the run game and on defense.  On 11.27.21 Michigan has finally gotten back to old-school throwback football!  It still works!  It still wins!  Why change it?!

That’s it.  That’s the story.  This season has been a quiet whirl wind for the Wolverines.  Saturday’s win extends the Wolverines season.  Now they have the Big Ten Championship game to prepare for.  Celebrate this win…but get back into the film room and on the practice field to get ready for either Wisconsin or Iowa.  Then, once they win that game, they prepare for the college football playoff!

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