The narrative surrounding Michigan football under Jim Harbaugh has been its inability to win a big game. That’s no secret.
So, what exactly qualifies as a “big” game for Michigan? Well, it goes back to the Week 1 road loss to Utah in 2015, Harbaugh’s first game as head coach. Then there’s the rivals, as Harbaugh has an 0-3 record against Ohio State and sits 1-2 against Michigan State. Most recently, you can reference a game from 2018, U-M’s season-opening loss at Notre Dame, as another failed attempt to be legitimate.
On Saturday night, under the bright lights of Michigan Stadium, the Wolverines showed their next step in shifting the narrative and moving the program’s culture forward.
Wisconsin entered Ann Arbor ranked No. 15 in the country. At No. 12 and a 10-point favorite, Michigan was far from an underdog. Nonetheless, with injuries banging up the Badgers’ secondary and U-W having been meh through six weeks, a close win wouldn’t have garnered any prominent national attention. The reviews would’ve been much of the same: Michigan needs to beat a better team to prove its legitimacy as a contender.
Rather than scratch-and-claw to a slim, yet important, victory at home, the Wolverines dominated Wisconsin, winning 38-13.
According to the players, Saturday’s win wasn’t just another win … it was a statement.
“This was a personal game for us,” senior running back Karan Higdon said to the media following Saturday’s game. “They say we don’t have good offensive line play, or a run game … we can’t win big games … We laid that to rest tonight.”
There’s obvious merit for this team to adopt that message. Following Michigan’s Week 1 loss at Notre Dame, fans were campaigning for two freshmen to take over the offensive tackle positions. They weren’t sold yet on Shea Patterson. It was as if the jury was out for Jim Harbaugh, according to some national pundits.
Now, they sit 6-1 overall and remain one of only two teams undefeated in the Big Ten Conference.
Saturday’s blowout win, though it seemed different, was still run according to Michigan’s original agenda that every week is a championship game. In that same light, a new saying and mindset was born within a Wolverines team that hasn’t had this much swagger since Denard Robinson was running all over Ann Arbor.
“This ain’t it. We ain’t done yet,” Higdon said. “Every game is personal now.”
A certain fiery energy filled the Crisler Center Media Room in Ann Arbor on Saturday night. Rightfully so, as U-M’s riding a six-game win streak on top of obliterating a Top 25 team at home in a vibrant night game atmosphere. The Wolverines have earned the right to strut their stuff.
After a 38-13 drubbing of a Wisconsin team that came in 15-1 on the road under Paul Chryst, this team can finally warrant its hype. It’s becoming the team Harbaugh’s preached it would be since his first day in Ann Arbor.
“We knew coming into this game that everything is ahead of us. We control our own destiny. It was a statement win,” Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson said. “We came out and, kinda, gave it to ’em, a little bit. We didn’t just win, we dominated them. We wanted to come out here and make a statement.”
Adopting a saying, or a mantra, is a typical go-to for teams needing a spark. It happens in all sports. In 2013, Michigan basketball started wearing shirts that read, We On. That year, it went on a National Championship run. In 2018, that same John Beilein led U-M hoops program started to “do more and say less,” en route to another National Championship run.
Next week, No. 12 Michigan travels to East Lansing to face its in-state foe, Michigan State, sticking to the same mantra it used against Wisconsin.
“It’s personal,” Michigan junior cornerback Lavert Hill said. “That’s just what it is, personal.”