Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh literally sings praises of defensive coordinator Don Brown, recaps 42-7 win over Penn State, Nov. 3, 2018.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
Standing near a practice field in Florida last December, days before wrapping up the 2017 season, Chase Winovich openly discussed the stark reality of Michigan’s football program.
Winovich had been with the program for four years. Neither he nor his teammates were holding much in terms of a legacy.
“I’m just being frank here,” Winovich said at the time. “As a Michigan football player, there’s not a lot of things I can say ‘we did.’ ”
Winovich came back to school for his fifth season with something to prove.
His roommate, Shea Patterson, left a bad situation at Ole Miss for a career restart. He, too, had plenty to prove.
Coach Jim Harbaugh retooled his offensive staff this offseason, and tried to find new ways to rescue a unit that appeared, at times, rudderless.
At some point, honesty met reality and the Wolverines’ external worry meter broke for good. For eight months they worked behind closed doors. They listened to talking heads declare the Harbaugh era a flop. They read about how they were the fourth-best team in their own division. The schedule was too tough. They weren’t ready.
Things are different now.
All those words are being served right back to the many mouths from which they came, mine included, with unrelenting ferocity and overflowing amounts of swagger. Don’t like it? Do something about it. Don’t want to hear about it? Change the channel.
This isn’t a revenge tour.
It’s a crusade.
“As you go forward, your baseline changes. Your expectations for yourself and for your team (change),” Winovich said after the Wolverines’ 42-7 thumping of Penn State on Saturday, improving to 8-1 overall, 6-0 in Big Ten play. “Your expectations change.
“That’s the best way I can put it.”
Every week, questions flood my inbox about trap games and whether or not the other shoe might drop on what’s quickly turned into a surging Michigan football season with championship aspirations.
Michigan fans have spent a decade being burned by this. They’re apprehensive, rightly so. Any times hopes rose, the inevitable rug-pull was cruel.
Brady Hoke’s gradual decline.
Dropping a last-second punt snap against Michigan State.
The spot in Columbus.
Collapsing in the Orange Bowl.
Being thrashed at Penn State.
Fumbling a handoff to a tight end in the Outback Bowl.
Watching recruiting momentum fade because of it all.
Listening to other fan bases mock and prod and poke and tease.
Eventually, the other shoe always drops, right?
This time, I’m not so sure.
Seidel: Michigan is now clear favorite to win Big Ten. Anything else a letdown
Michigan’s Josh Uche sacks Penn State’s Trace McSorley during the first half. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
Michigan’s confidence is overwhelming. In 2016, the Wolverines thought they were good and, for the most part, they were. But they entered the final three games of the season with a number of questions offensively and without performance proof against a top opponent.
This team just ran through a stretch of Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State with ease. Physically dominant in all three games and ready to tell anyone willing to listen about it afterward.
The confidence is genuine, but more important, so is the play on the field.
No one in Ann Arbor has been more critical of Michigan’s offensive line in recent years than me, and it was warranted. The Wolverines saw two quarterbacks go to the hospital last season and have spent years trying to find enough consistency up front to play the physical brand of football they desperately covet.
The turnaround orchestrated by new offensive line coach Ed Warinner has been staggering. Michigan is rushing for 233 yards per game against Big Ten opponents. Penn State was the Big Ten’s top-rated pass rush defense entering Saturday’s game, and Patterson was barely touched.
If there’s a better offensive line in this conference right now, I’d like to see it. When’s the last time anyone has said that about the Wolverines? I’ll wait as you dust off a calendar.
Harbaugh’s play-calling balance has been outstanding. Patterson’s efficiency rating, now 157.1, continues to soar. Karan Higdon is 37 yards away from 1,000. Donovan Peoples-Jones has gone from athletic prospect to polished weapon with seven touchdown catches.
And we haven’t even gotten to this defense yet, a group allowing 216.2 yards per game and a ridiculous 3.7 yards per play.
Michigan is blitzing into its final three games — at Rutgers, vs. Indiana, at Ohio State — with the look of a playoff contender and a team hell-bent on proving anyone and everyone who doubted their ability completely wrong.
I had my doubts, and they were evidence-based.
I don’t have doubts anymore. That’s evidence-based, too.
Michigan is confident and brash and not afraid to let the country know it.
More important, though? Michigan is really good.
The rest of college football is starting to realize that, too.
Analysis: Michigan grades: Accolades for domination of Penn State
Contact Nick Baumgardner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NickBaumgardner.
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Free Press writers Jeff Seidel, Nick Baumgardner and Orion Sang react to Michigan’s eighth straight win, a 42-7 whopping of Penn State, Nov. 3, 2018.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep