ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan football team dominated Ohio State for the second year a row on Saturday, using a 28-3 second-half run to finish the season undefeated and advance to the Big Ten championship.
How did this happen again? Ohio State players and fans spent the past 365 days making excuses after last year’s 42-27 loss. It was a fluke. An aberration. An outlier in a rivalry that had otherwise been dominated by the Buckeyes for two decades.
It began in the postgame press conference. They had the flu. It was cold. There was even a bit of light snow that revisionist history has turned into “a blizzard” (yes, I heard it described as such in an episode of “Rivals” last week).
The Buckeyes had forgotten what it was like to lose The Game, and when Michigan reminded them, they didn’t know how to react.
Well, this time, the game was in Columbus. The weather was perfect. There was nothing for Ohio State to hide behind after a second-straight blowout loss.
In fact, it was the Wolverines who went into the game with all the odds against them.
No Blake Corum for a team that relies heavily on the run. No Mike Morris for a defense replacing two NFL edge rushers. A backup running back wearing a cast nearly as big as Corum’s knee brace.
For those keeping count, that’s Michigan’s best offensive player, best defensive player, and most versatile offensive weapon. Suddenly, playing in a bit of snow doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
But Michigan didn’t make excuses. Without Corum, the Wolverines rushed for 252 yards. Without Morris, they held the Buckeyes to 23 points. With a cast, Donovan Edwards put two 70-plus-yard nails in the Ohio State coffin.
You want to know how Michigan turned the tide in this rivalry? Look no further than the difference in how these two teams responded to adversity in 2021 and 2022.
It wasn’t long ago that Jim Harbaugh and Michigan were the ones who always seemed to be making excuses. They moaned about the fourth-down spot after J.T. Barrett’s overtime run in 2016. They blamed the rain for a 2017 home loss against Michigan State.
It’s no coincidence that those Michigan teams couldn’t win the Big Ten. This conference is about toughness, and making excuses instead of improvements is the antithesis of toughness.
It wasn’t until the disastrous 2020 season that Harbaugh took a good hard look at his program and made serious changes.
Since then, the Wolverines have won 24 of 26 games, thanks to a physical and philosophical mindset that often leaves opponents overwhelmed. Cade McNamara said it best after leading a late comeback at Nebraska last October.
“Michigan teams in the past -- no disrespect, but I think since I’ve been at Michigan, we lose this game, sometimes,” McNamara said. “I think this is a testament to the guys in that locker room, the coaches who have made a commitment to make this year different, and I think we have something special here.”
He was absolutely right. The contrast from seasons past was jarring.
When Michigan blew a 16-point lead at Michigan State, it buckled down and won five straight to get into the playoff. After a blowout loss to Georgia, the players said, “This isn’t good enough,” and got to work, making sure they could earn this opportunity again in 2022.
Then, on Saturday, when they could have made every excuse in the book, the shorthanded Wolverines went toe-to-toe with a more talented and revenge-driven team and sent the Buckeyes packing with their tails between their legs.
Past Michigan teams would have gotten blown out Saturday, especially after Ohio State’s hot start. Heck, past Michigan teams would have lost to Illinois after falling behind late last week.
But these Wolverines are different. They win with toughness -- and it’s not just on the field. It’s a mentality. A culture.
We watched Ohio State shove Michigan into a proverbial locker year after year after year, but now the shoe’s on the other foot. I don’t think the Wolverines will ever win 15 of 16, but the days of chalking up the last Saturday in November as an L are gone.
Harbaugh was hired for a long list of reasons: getting Michigan back to national relevance, competing for Big Ten titles, even just going to bowl games.
Right at the top of that list was to stop the bleeding against Ohio State. It might have taken a few years longer than expected, but a scab has formed, and the program is finally starting to heal.
Now Ohio State is the one scrambling, while Michigan is right where it wants to be.