The Victory that was Promised (oh and Week 8: Niagara)
Michigan wins the Game against Ohio State (and two games against Niagara)
We know, we know. This is a hockey newsletter, but if you’ve taken note of the fine print in our logo, it won’t be news to you that we here at Gulo Gulo reserve the right to wander. After all, when in the course of human events, Michigan thumps Ohio State 42-28 in a snowed and sold out Big House, that’s the lead story of the Sunday hockey recap newsletter. To any who object, I’d invite you to jump down to our Michigan-Niagara recap below.
It is perhaps a cliche, or if you want to be harsh a misrepresentation, to suggest that a single play can encapsulate what was in real time a four-hour affair. And yet, Hassan Haskins’ final touchdown (he scored five if you didn’t hear) feels as though it might approach doing so.
With 2:17 to go, Haskins walked in from the four yard line for his fifth touchdown of The Game. Whether the Ohio State defense he eased past had allowed him to score intentionally to salvage some game clock or had been mauled once again by Michigan’s offensive line was by then an academic distinction. By design or otherwise, Ohio State had no choice but to submit in the face of the physicality of Michigan’s offensive line and bruising running back.
On the play prior to his fifth touchdown of the game (I’m not sure I mentioned yet that Hassan Haskins scored five touchdowns in a 42-27 victory over Ohio State), Haskins had hurdled over helpless Buckeye corner Cameron Brown.
That run, along with Blake Corum’s fifty-five-yard scamper at the start of the second half, was more spectacular, but it is the walk-in touchdown that sealed the game that best illustrates a simple truth of Michigan’s first victory over its nemesis in a decade.
As Cade McNamara took the final knee and Michigan’s fans descended upon the field at the Big House, the realization set in for this Michigan fan just how easy this victory had been. From the eleven-play touchdown drive that opened the game, there was never a doubt which team was in command. After stopping the Buckeyes short on their first drive of the second half before a three-play, eighty-one-yard touchdown drive (all of it on the ground) of its own, Michigan made it clear that they wouldn’t fade away.
This is not to say that the Buckeyes never threatened, nor that Michigan fans were content. This is a fan base that has walked down this road far too often to take any victory, much less a victory over this team as a certainty. A certain game played in East Lansing, one only a fan base this self-loathing would mention on the heels of the program’s biggest win of the 21st century, a few weeks back is more than enough of a reminder.
However, with the outcome secured and the opportunity for retrospection upon us, Harbaugh’s long awaited victory over the Buckeyes came not on last second heroics but sixty-minutes of what can only be described as ass-kicking. Haskins’ score to seal that victory told the same story: a hungry and physical football team dominating a team that all of America agreed a week prior boasted the best offense in college football.
It isn’t hard to come up with reasons why Saturday’s victory in Ann Arbor tasted especially sweet for the team’s head coach, but one of them is that they did it playing the exact type of football Michigan fans cannot decide amongst themselves between waxing nostalgic about or bemoaning as anachronistic.
On Saturday afternoon, Michigan left no doubt as to whether a team built the way Jim Harbaugh promised back in 2014 it would be, on a physical running game and dominant defense, might just work in the modern game.
Thus far, we’ve highlighted the dominance of Michigan’s run game, but without a seismic effort on the other side of the ball, victory would have been impossible. Going into The Game, it was reasonable to expect that Michigan could put up points against an Ohio State defense whose challenges this season have been well documented. However, the idea that Michigan could hold the Buckeyes to three touchdowns would have seemed nothing short of miraculous as recently as Friday evening.
To be sure, C.J. Stroud made a few plays, and Garrett Wilson and Jaxson Smith-Njigba found some dazzling and, at times, unbelievable plays out wide, but the force of Michigan’s pass rush could not be denied.
Quite frankly, I don’t care whether whatever insufferable assemblage of media that votes on the Heisman decides to give their precious award to Aidan Hutchinson. I know that he is the most dominant player in the country this season.
Hutchinson spent this most recent Saturday the same way he has spent all the other Saturdays preceding it this fall: fighting through the clutching of scrambling offensive tackles rendered hapless by his collection of pass rush moves. Whether held or not, whether the hold was called or not, Aidan Hutchinson has left every tackle and quarterback he’s faced this year quaking. His three sacks on Saturday brought him equal the single-season Michigan record, thirteen, a mark he will almost certainly surpass in the two-to-three remaining games. His fifteen pressures were the most ever recorded by the fine folks at Pro Football Focus in a single game.
By no means do I wish for Michigan to remain a program obsessed with venerating its own past. I would be lying if I said I never doubted that Harbaugh’s project would come through eventually, but for me, the moments when I was most tempted by Matt Campbell came not from anything that happened on the field but instead one horrific failure off it.
What I do know now is that Jim Harbaugh has built the exact Michigan program we dreamed he would back in 2014. This is a team that dominates the trenches to break its opponent’s will. It may not dazzle with its modern schemes, but, as the incomparable Richard Johnson of Sports Illustrated and the SEC Network loves to remind us, “football is a game about blocking and tackling.” As long as that remains the case, I have no doubt that there is room for a program like this one at the highest level of college football.
Like everyone else, I can’t predict the immediate future for this Michigan team. I know they should beat Iowa to win the Big Ten. I know that should leave them with the two-seed in the College Football Playoff. Whatever they do from there, or even whether they stumble next weekend in Indianapolis, remains a mystery. What I do know though is that, this week even more than most, it’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine.
Michigan-Niagara in 200 Words
Michigan earned a predictable sweep over the Niagara University Purple Eagles, winning 6-1 on Friday and 4-1 on Saturday. The pair of wins propels the Wolverines to a 12-4-0 record on the year.
Though both scorelines ended up lopsided, the Purple Eagles managed to hang around in both games, entering the third period down just one on Friday and level Saturday. With that said, Michigan did conclude the two game set with an 84-36 edge in shots, good for a staggering 70% shot share.
If you are among the Wolverine fans concerned about an apparent lackadaisical attitude from the star-studded lineup, you will have some morsels of ammunition from this weekend to make that case.
I for one would prefer to point out that, when they needed to be, the Wolverines were the dominant war machine we well know they can be. In the final period of the series, with Saturday night’s outcome very much in the balance, Michigan bludgeoned the Purple Eagles 22-3 in shots and 3-0 in goals.
The two games may not have had all the style we’ve seen from this Michigan group, but they certainly had enough of it.