Harbaugh Season Three: It’s All About the Numbers

The University of Michigan Football starts fall camp this week with high expectations.  Head Coach Jim Harbaugh takes the field to prepare his team after dominating the off-season.

The guy is clearly non-stop.

He’s an international sensation whether presenting the Pope with a Michigan football helmet or criticizing the Trump administration for budget cuts to legal services for the poor.

Coach Harbaugh has clearly won the off-season.

Now entering his third season there are three numbers to keep in mind as we judge the on-field progress of his program.


The last time Michigan beat arch rival Ohio State was in 2011. Ohio State fans are quick to point that Michigan last beat Ohio State in a gap year after disgraced Jim Tressel resigned prior to the season. The Buckeyes stumbled to a 6-7 record and served up Brady Hoke’s only win the rivalry.

The last Michigan victory over a fully armed and operational Buckeye team was 2003. While Michigan still holds the overall lead in the rivalry (58-48-6) since 2000 the Wolverines are a paltry 3-14. 

We have them right where we want ’em!!

The hammer and nail aren’t rivals– too often Michigan has played the nail as Buckeye teams have hammered them on the way to national titles and Big Ten Championships.

Jim Harbaugh is only responsible for the last two losses, but a win this season would be a major achievement.


It’s been 13 years since Michigan’s last Big Ten Championship. Since the Big Ten went to a championship game format in 2011, Michigan has never made the trip to Indianapolis.

Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska,  and Iowa have all played in the Championship after Michigan’s regular season ended. Last season Michigan crushed Penn State 49-10 only to falter late in season and stand idly by as the Nittany Lions won the Big Ten Championship.

Four times Michigan’s division rivals (Ohio State, Michigan State-twice, and Penn State) have the won the league championship.

Off-season trips to Rome, Florida, and Normandy are great– but a December trip to Indianapolis would serve as tangible evidence of program growth.


It’s been 20 years since Michigan won the National Championship. The t-shirts and hats celebrating the victory are fading. 

A bid in the college football playoffs which Michigan was tantalizingly close to last season before being tripped up by season losses to Iowa and Ohio State would make Michigan fans giddy.

Season 3

Jim Harbaugh didn’t return to Ann Arbor to beat Air Force. The expectations at Michigan are higher than that. Outsiders have seen the alleged revival of Michigan before. Rich Rodriguez was brought in with expectations of greatness and instead oversaw the collapse of program. Brady Hoke had mini-revival going until things fell apart during this third season.

Harbaugh has put together great recruiting classes and assembled a top rate coaching staff. 

Now it’s time to start erasing the numbers of Wolverine futility and creating some for their rivals.


Cunningly disguised as THE Ohio State Football team, the Buckzillas blathered into the civilized confines of Ann Arbor and Michigan Stadium, along with their usual horde of protagonists, as they have in all the uneven years since 1918.

Vocal as always, many of the garishly bedecked crowd in Scarlet and Drab (oops, Grey), seemed to waft in on an aroma of spiritus fermenti. As always, all were in high spirits. While I wanted to add “At least before the game”, the Buckeyes had every right to remain that way after the game as well.

They won the day, as the Wolverines needed to run play action passing, but were minus a running game. Michigan also needed to protect Jake Ruddock, but failed miserably at times. Another ouch was the inability of the defense to stop the run or protect the red zone. Coupled with a no run offense, they could command no run defense. OSU piled up 369 net yards rushing for a 6.8 average per carry, and 5 TDs, as opposed to 57 net yards rushing by the Wolverines, and a lone TD. OSU’s RB Elliot had 30-carries for 214-yards, 2 TDs, and a 7.1 average per carry. Giving a D minus grade for Saturday’s rush defense would be grading this effort too high. All in all, it was the Wolverine’s worst outing, and resulted in their worst beating of the season.

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A SHORT COMMENTARY REGARDING THE HISTORY OF “THE GAME”: M and OSU first played in 1897, and the game has been an annual competition since 1918. Memorable moments have originated in each subsequent era.

The game caught the attention of the sporting world for a number of reasons. Hard hitting games usually displayed well played and coached football, often with possible Big Ten championships at stake, and sometimes high national ranking against high national ranking. Also, sometimes with undefeated records at stake as in 1993, 1995 and 1996, when the Wolverines ruined OSU perfection.

These games decided the Big Ten title 27 times, and so often on the biggest of stages. They feature huge stadiums, and consistent hard edged fan enthusiasm, and these games featured splendid Saturday afternoon spectacle, some elating wins, and some deflating losses. They also featured coaching antics and on field heroics.

Colorful characters like the uniquely talented and quirky OSU Coach Woody Hayes, and the equally volatile and dedicated Wolverine Coach Bo Schembechler added luster to scenes still remembered.

They engineered the so-called Ten Years War. In Bo’s era, nothing irked Bo more than the selection of Ohio State as the Rose Bowl Representative in 1973 after a 10-10 tie, in which Quarterback Dennis Franklin’s injury during the game was cited as the explanatory reason for naming Ohio State. It was not unnoticed by Michigan fans that MSU’s AD Smith had voted for Ohio State.

To really understate it, Coach Hayes had a tendency to over enthusiasm which he could not entirely control. For example, bopping a competitor player during a bowl game cost him his career, and should have. Another less heinous instance, with no consequences but energizing and entertaining Michigan Stadium fans, happened in 1972, in Michigan Stadium.

Woody did not appreciate the officials validating a Michigan interception in a close game. To illustrate his rage, he grabbed the chained yard markers and systematically destroyed them. By so doing he set the Michigan crowd’s enthusiasm afire, and the team sent Billie Taylor into the end zone, for a Wolverine TD and win.

While Woody was not always beloved by Wolverine fans (for example, he went for two in 1968 while leading M by almost 50 points, because he said, he couldn’t go for three). His coaching ability, if not always his demeanor, was always respected. It was tough to accomplish at times, but it never was any more fun to watch a coach lose than it was to watch the volatile Woody Wilson Hayes lose.

The eras since Bo’s remarkable and improbable 1969 win have spawned Heisman trophy winners on both sides. As you undoubtedly remember, the two notables that are most fondly remembered by the Michigan side now are Desmond Howard, who famously struck a striking Heisman pose in the end zone after a stunning long kick return that sealed the Buckeyes fate. Not to be out done another former Ohioan, Charles Woodson, sealed Ohio’s fate in much the same manner, by returning a punt.

These were the two most memorable Michigan moments in my memory, but other performances like Tim Biakabatuka’s over three hundred yard rushing tour de force against the S & G in 1995 shouldn’t be forgotten.

Also, there were other performances before my time, which still shimmer in an aura of greatness. Among them were Tom Harmon’s extraordinary performance in “the Game” in Columbus in the early forties.

Old 98 excelled at nearly all phases of the game, winning over a hostile crowd in Columbus to an audible demonstration of appreciation of his performance. Unexpectedly, he was presented with a great ovation, by some of the toughest critics in the world if you are Maize and Blue, the Buckeye home crowd.

A SHORT 2015 GAME COMMENTERY: Unfortunately last Saturday’s lack of ability to defend its home turf proved that the Wolverines are not yet a finished product in this, Coach Harbaugh’s first year at the helm. He always says there is more work to do and Saturday proved him right.

Last Saturday’s game won’t earn inclusion in any synopsis of M’s great games against OSU, because it truly wasn’t. Still, it must be said it was a hard fought battle on both sides.

The Wolverines punished themselves with foolish and costly penalties. In fact a first quarter roughing the kicker penalty provided OSU a fresh first down after the defense had held them deep, and had forced a Buckeye punt.

It was a bad coaching call, as the kick block failed. The M rusher did not fail to illegally bump the OSU punter, and the stalled Buckeyes were on their way.

Peppers fielding the punt and possibly running it back seems a better option as it could have put the Wolverines deep in OSU territory. Obviously that early gamble did not pay off.

Instead, this penalty was actually the turning point of the game as it advanced the Buckeyes to their 24, ruining the great field position provided by M’s punter Blake O’Neill. Via that gaff, the Bucks turned adversity into advantage as good teams will. The Bucks subsequently drove for their first TD after a 7 play, 94-yard drive in the first quarter.

A 66-yard gallop on that series by OSU’s RB E. Elliot took it to the M 10, also helping turn M’s fortunes the wrong way. Jerrod Wilson put him down at the ten, but red zone greatness was not a facet of this game for the Wolverines. OSU QB J.T Barrett ran it in for six, and the die was cast. The first quarter ended M-0. OSU-7. OSU only had 4 first downs to M’s six in the quarter, but momentum had shifted for good to the Bucks.

In the second quarter, M finally hit a field goal after a 14 play, 72-yard long drive. A false start hurt, and back to back incompletions to Amara Darboh helped cause the stall. There were two or three instances in this game where the usually sure handed Amara was hit in the hands, and dropped the pass.

OSU answered the Michigan FG with another TD.  J.T. Barrett rushed for 25-yards, and Braxton Miller rushed for 6 and 3-yards. J T. Barrett rushed for 16 and 7 to the 5, and Elliott broke the plane for 6 on two attempts to complete a 9-play 75-yard drive. M-3. OSU-14.

The hurry up offense bothered the Wolverine’s defensive play, they couldn’t defend the edge and sometimes the middle against the run. This drive was fairly indicative of the Wolverines problematic defense against the run all afternoon.

The Wolverines answered with their lone TD of the afternoon. This was the result of an 11-play 92-yard drive. A 4-yard Smith run and catch of 5-yards got it started. A pass to Peppers got 13. An OSU pass interference call enhanced it, as did a 24-yard reception by Smith.

Chesson, who has shown remarkable development and diversity this season, finished off the drive with a nifty 5-yard catch on a flag route into the front corner of the South end zone on a perfectly thrown Jake Rudock pass. The second quarter and half ended at M-10, OSU-14, and hope began to soar just a little, but fell flat as the second half was an absolute disaster for the Wolverines.

The Buckeyes received, and scored four second half TDs around a single FG by the Wolverines. OSU produced TD drives of 82-yards, 84-yards, 75-yards, and 47-yards as they overwhelmed the Wolverines. M could only answer with that single field goal. The final was M-13, OSU-42.

M could not protect the corners, tackle effectively, consistently pass protect QB Jake Rudock, or stay penalty free. The hurry up tired M’s thin defensive line.

Offensively, in the second half Jake Rudock took more viscous hits, one of which in the third quarter resulted in a Rudock fumble recovered by the Wolverine’s Mason Cole.

Later, in the fourth quarter, Jake Rudock injured a shoulder when sacked again by OSU’s Joey Bosa. His understudy, QB Wilton Speight replaced him, and was ineffective as by now the Bucks had their ears laid back.

I have heard some say the Wolverines quit. I don’t think that is true at all. Both sides were hitting. The Wolverines were simply overwhelmed by superior talent in this game. Talent which was trying to recover from their own worst performance of the season in losing their shot at the championship game against MSU.

THE FUTURE STILL BODES WELL: The fifteen bowl practices will assist the Wolverines. Last year they sat and watched the bowl games on TV like fans. They may not make a New Year’s Day Bowl, but it will be a decent bowl. Iowa, MSU, and OSU have earned spots above them, and might use up all of the New Year’s Day slots, but maybe not.

I do not believe that the 2016 recruiting class will be hampered by this game, and still believe that M will still gather a top ten or better class. This game just shows prospective running backs, linebackers, offensive and defensive lineman, that superior athletes will have a chance of playing early at Michigan.

Harbaugh and his staff will use freshman early, and will coach them up. The team needs speed at many positions including running back, and linebacker, and else where, and they need play makers every where.

Saturday’s loss was a nasty one, the worst of the season, a big fan disappointment. It proved that the talent gap with the best teams in the league is still a problem. Even so, the improvement over last season is obvious even if there is more work to be done. The coaching has been good overall.

Special teams are an enigma. They have often helped win this season, and have been superior in many respects, but in the two games that have counted most, special teams errors have helped roadblock wins.  Go figure.

Player development is illustrated by the progress of 5th year graduate QB Jake Rudock. His acquisition showed remarkable foresight on Harbaugh’s part, and his development over the course of the season has been remarkable.

When, in about the middle of the season, M switched to more passing than rushing because of necessity, Jake was totally up to the task to the surprise of many fans after a rough time connecting downfield at first.

Another QB has been added to Harbaugh’s list of successes. Hopefully Jake will get a chance in the bowl game, if his shoulder permits.

This coaching team has been mostly remarkable. Nine and three for the regular season shows a vast improvement.

M Football will only get better.

Go Blue!

Michigan vs Ohio State Football – Looking Back – 1986

The fifth and final installment of this year’s series looking back at the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry takes us to 1986. The national economy was booming, the Mets won an absolute classic of a World Series, President Ronald Reagan was dealing with the Iran-Contra controversy, and Microsoft Corporation issued its initial public offering of shares. In college football, Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh guaranteed that his team would beat archrival Ohio State. Guaranteed.

The history of sports guarantees has been checkered over the years. Joe Namath made his legend when the New York Jets fulfilled his guarantee of victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, but Patrick Ewing guaranteed that his New York Knicks would defeat numerous opponents, and his guarantees almost always fell flat on their face. So when Harbaugh guaranteed a Michigan victory in “The Game”, it grabbed sports headlines with the subtle attraction of a magnet. Harbaugh’s guarantee assured only one thing: Either his legend would be defined, or he would look like a fool.

As it turns out, he came very close to looking like a fool. Fortunately for Harbaugh and all the Maize & Blue faithful, the Michigan defense had his back, particularly when it counted most. With Ohio State driving in the final minutes, Buckeye quarterback Jim Karsatos threw a long pass for the end zone, and had a man open, but Michigan safety Ivan Hicks got his hand on the ball and knocked it away. Then, on a third down, Karsatos connected with Cris Carter, who headed for the first down marker, but was tackled a little more than two yards shy of the first down by Erik Campbell, who went on to became an excellent wide receivers coach. The yardage necessary was more than Ohio State coach Earle Bruce was comfortable with, and he sent out Matt Frantz to try a 45-yard field goal. Almost immediately, Frantz’s kick started to hook, and it veered wide of the goal posts, allowing Michigan to run out the clock for the victory.

Michigan finished the season with an 11-2 record. Oddly, the Wolverines had one regular season game left on the schedule after Ohio State, and they enjoyed their trip to sunny Honolulu, beating Hawaii 27-10. The Rose Bowl wound up being a disappointment, as the Wolverines fell to Arizona State, 22-15. Harbaugh was named to the All-America team, as were Garland Rivers and Jumbo Elliott, an offensive tackle who went on to a tremendous career in the NFL. Ohio State rebounded nicely to top Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, 28-12.

This year, as we approach The Game, the atmosphere is more somber. An Ohio State student passed away during the school’s annual student tradition of jumping in Mirror Lake during the week leading up to the Michigan game. Please keep that student’s family and loved ones in your thoughts and prayers. We’d also like to thank the Ohio State and Michigan State football teams, who showed tremendous compassion and support for Chad Carr during his fight against cancer.

Thanks to CBS Sports and youtube poster Wolverine Historian. As always, I own nothing, nobody profits off this blog post, and everything here is done strictly for your enjoyment.


Michigan vs Ohio State Football – Looking Back – 1995

The fourth installment of the series looking back at the Michigan-Ohio State game takes us back 20 years to the 1995 game. Michigan hadn’t played particularly well prior to the game, while Ohio State had churned through its schedule with 11 wins. Buckeye running back Eddie George was on his way to win the Heisman Trophy, and the Buckeyes were just two wins from a perfect season and a probable national championship. After years of frustration at the hands of the Wolverines, confidence was running high at Ohio State. Maybe that confidence was just a little too high.

Ohio State wide receiver Terry Glenn was really feeling the confidence leading up to the annual game with Michigan. Glenn had been a tremendous story in his own right, starting as a walk-on and earning a scholarship, Glenn was named to the All-America team in 1995, a season when he was legitimately dominant. Unfortunately for Glenn, he was a little too candid about his confidence leading up to the Michigan game, and said that Ohio State should beat Michigan rather handily. Naturally, those comments came back to haunt him. Naturally, the boast brought out the competitor in the Michigan football team, and running back Tshimanga “Touchdown Tim” Biakabutuka ran for 313 yards, routinely dragging Ohio State defenders for anywhere from 5-10 yards, while the Michigan defense largely kept George under wraps. As for Glenn, he was matched up with Michigan freshman Charles Woodson, and Ohio State quarterback Bobby Hoying chose to test the freshman on several occasions. Initially, Ohio State got the best of Woodson, but that didn’t last very long. In all, Woodson intercepted two passes, the last one largely sealing the Michigan victory.

More than any one play, the game seemed to turn on Glenn’s comment earlier in the week. On paper, the Buckeyes entered the game with a great team, but that comment whipped the Wolverines into frenzy, and it showed in their effort. Every block was finished just a little bit more, running backs kept churning their legs just a little bit more and breaking tackles, cornerbacks worked just a little bit harder at covering receivers, defensive players swarmed to the ball and helped out on tackles. In the end, Michigan just outplayed Ohio State all game, even though the Buckeyes had their moments and actually had some chances late in the game. The outcome ruined Ohio State’s shot at a national championship, as the Buckeyes went out to California and topped Arizona State in the Rose Bowl for a triumph that would have won the national championship had Ohio State beaten Michigan. For the Wolverines, the victory salvaged an otherwise bland season, though it was a season that had dramatic victories in the beginning (an 18-17 win over Boston College on the final play) and in the final regular season game. It also established the fact that Charles Woodson would be a player to watch for the next few years.

Many thanks to ABC Sports, as well as youtube posters j bakker and WolverineHistorian. I do own any content and I do not profit from this in any way. Everything here is done strictly for your enjoyment.