MIAMI, Fla. – The Georgia Bulldogs shattered the glass slipper of the Michigan Wolverines’ Cinderella season with a 34-11 demolition on New Year’s Eve in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl inside Hard Rock Stadium.
Although the Michigan faithful may be disappointed, the journey of the 2021 season will leave fond memories. A much as fans try to suppress the pain of losing on the final day of 2021, how about celebrating a 12-2 season, overcoming the 10-year OSU stranglehold, Big Ten Championships, a Heisman runner-up, and two Coach of the Year recipients?
For starters, nobody had the Wolverines as the lone representative of the Big Ten Conference in the CFP. If we’re being honest, after the debacle of the 2-4 pandemic shortened season everyone was pretty sure they weren’t a candidate to come out of the East Division.
Michigan was almost 1-5, but Rutgers kicker shanked a game-winning 45-yard field goal in overtime. For hypothetical purposes, if that kick goes through the uprights, future AP Coach of the year Jim Harbaugh is probably fired.
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, but Harbaugh did come into the season with a healthy $4 million pay cut. You don’t cut someone’s pay if they perform well at their job.
Critics will have views of how one should lead. Although quirky at times, Harbaugh has proved this season why the Wolverines are “the leaders and best.”
Thanks to that poor 2020 season, the Football Power Index gave the Wolverines a 2 percent chance to win the division.
The Wolverines rattled off four wins in a row that included a 20-13 home rematch vs. the aforementioned Scarlet Knights, a game in which they completed one pass in the second half.
The lackluster passing game brought on more unwanted noise from the media, who were questioning the Wolverines unbeaten record and if they would be able to stay undefeated after a road trip to Madison to face the Wisconsin Badgers.
Offensive coordinator and Broyles Award-winning assistant Josh Gattis made his name well known in this game. The formally unranked to now 14th-ranked Wolverines’ trickeration proved to be too much as they routed the Badgers 38-17 to improve to 5-0.
“I think Michigan teams in the past lose this game,” said QB Cade McNamara. “The coaches have made a commitment to make this year different.”
Stumbling in East Lansing
After boat racing Northwestern 33-7, the Wolverines went into Spartan Stadium fully confident but fell short thanks to Kenneth Walker III. He ran all over the defense of future Heisman runner-up Aidan Hutchinson.
After the game, a stunned Harbaugh told reporters: “We are going to have to learn from it and strengthen our resolve.”
“I think we are still in contention,” said Hutchinson. “We still got all of our goals ahead of us.”
That loss sparked the rumor mill for Harbaugh as the Wolverines choked the game away to the rival Spartans. This game resembled ones in years where the Wolverines couldn’t win big games against rivals.
Michigan quieted the noise a little after demolishing the Indiana Hoosiers, 29-7.
A trip to happy valley was next for the one-loss Wolverines, who squeaked by the Penn State Nittany Lions thanks to tight end Erick All and his mesh route to the house for six.
A 59-18 drumming over the Maryland Terrapins ultimately became the coming-out party for freshman Donovan Edwards who had 10 receptions for 170 yards and a touchdown.
Finally beating Ohio State
In the final game of the regular season, Michigan welcomed hated rival Ohio State to the Big House, where they finally defeated the Buckeyes 42-27 thanks in part to Hassan Haskins five-touchdown performance, Hutchinson and his school-record 14th sack of the season, and fellow lineman David Ojabo who provided a clutch sack in the final moments of the game.
The victory propelled the Wolverines to their first-ever appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game. They dominated the Iowa Hawkeyes to capture their first title from start to finish. Hutchinson was so dominant that he was voted the first defensive player to win the MVP.