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October 13, 2021 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com



*Social distancing is recommended for individuals who are not fully vaccinated.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021 — 11

SportsWednesday: Michigan just proved

it can be a contender this season

Going into the season, 8-4 was a

hopeful prediction for the Michigan
football team’s record. Our own
beat’s highest prediction was that.
Wisconsin, Penn
State and Ohio
State smelled like



would push them,
and winning both
would be a sign of

losses last year.

This year was supposed to be a gap

year — a year to let freshman phenom
J.J. McCarthy mature and allow the
new defense to settle in. But now, 6-0
and ranked in the top 10, this season is
no longer a bridge to a brighter future,
it is an opportunity for the Wolverines
to be disruptive and play at a national

Two weeks ago against Rutgers,

the defense held strong and kept
the Scarlet Knights from turning
the table after an abysmal offensive
second half from the Wolverines. A
week ago, Jim Harbaugh won his
biggest road win at Michigan. This
week, the offense kept the team in
it even as the defense floundered.
Then, when it needed to, the defense
forced a late fumble to set up a game-
winning field goal.

“We didn’t flinch,” senior safety

Brad Hawkins said. “We stayed
composed throughout the whole
game. We knew adversity was going
to hit. It hit, and we didn’t flinch. I
love this team, I love this defense,
and I know we’re fighters.”

Michigan teams of the past

couldn’t have done any of those

This year, the dominoes are falling

the right way for the Wolverines.
When looking across college football,

the traditionally top teams are
struggling. Oklahoma has scraped
by in five of its six games, Alabama
lost to an unranked team, Clemson
has plummeted out of even the top
25. Notre Dame has looked ugly in
its 5-1 start and now Penn State has
a questionable quarterback situation
due to Sean Clifford’s injury.

There is actually a path to the

College Football Playoff. Which
is, inherently, a ridiculous thing to

But Michigan still has to face its

biggest tests. Michigan State, the
Nittany Lions and Ohio State are all
top 10 teams left on its schedule, and
each of them is finding its identity
(Clifford’s injury aside).

If the Wolverines lose just

two of those games, this could be
Harbaugh’s best season ever at
Michigan. If they lose one of those
games, they would be contenders
for the College Football Playoff and

likely give Harbaugh his first Big Ten

And after the past three weeks,

Michigan losing only one of those
games isn’t a laughably absurd
thought. Because unlike in previous
years, the Wolverines have shown an
ability to adjust and learn from their

The abysmal offense from Rutgers’

second half hasn’t reappeared, and
that game remains the only one
in which Michigan failed to score
more than 30 points. McNamara has
improved throughout the season,
and despite a few missed throws on
Saturday he played well. The defense
has made in-game adjustments,
repeatedly shutting down teams after
their first drive. There’s no reason to
suspect it won’t learn from Nebraska’s
second half.

All that goes to show that this

isn’t a gap year for Michigan —
not because it’s biding its time for

McCarthy to take the starting job but
because it won’t accept a loss. That’s
why the team danced despite being
behind at the end of the third quarter
and why they continued to respond.

“The grit they have, the fight

they have, the mindset of not being
denied,” Harbaugh said. “The way
they prepare and they have fun

doing it. It’s in the eyes. Practice and

Now, 8-4 would be a disappointing

end. And Ohio State, Penn State
and Michigan State are winnable
games and the Las Vegas Bowl a let
down. So forget the gap year, the
Wolverines have crashed the playoff

Unlike past years, this team finds
ways to win in tough environments

LINCOLN — For a moment, as Cade

McNamara walked off the field late in
the third quarter,
it felt like the same
old Michigan.


had just thrown

interception, and as
a whole, the ninth-
ranked Wolverines


they’d been sitting comfortably with
a two-score advantage and a defense
that effectively suffocated Nebraska’s
dynamic offense. One throw and a
two-point conversion later, it became a
three-point Cornhuskers lead.

The sudden momentum shift

evoked memories of Jim Harbaugh-
coached teams of years past. Perhaps
it reminded onlookers of Michigan’s
2019 loss against Ohio State, when
the Wolverines scored on their
first drive, then surrendered a
touchdown on the next possession
and never led again. Or the 2017
Outback Bowl, where a 16-point lead
late in the third quarter devolved
into a seven-point loss.

Let’s be frank — the Michigan of

years past would have lost Saturday’s
game at Memorial Stadium. The
mistakes that allowed the Wolverines’
advantage to disappear would have
compounded into more frustrations,

humiliating defeat snatched from the
jaws of victory.

But this isn’t the Michigan of years

past. This team — which marched
out of Lincoln with a 32-29 win over a
much-improved Nebraska team — is
different. The Wolverines of the last
four years were almost extraordinary
at finding ways to lose close games.

This year’s team finds ways to win


“I think overall that this team has

decided to be different this year,”
McNamara said. “And I think it’s
not as much what you see football-
wise, it’s the atmosphere that we’ve
created, and really the mindset that

we’ve rebuilt this offseason, and I
think it showed today.”


bounce-back mentality. By no means
was he extraordinary on Saturday
— he missed several open receivers
throughout the night and often
delivered the ball too late for his
receivers to do much with it. The
interception itself was ugly, thrown
straight to a Cornhuskers defender.

But after that throw, McNamara

and the entire offense kept its collective
composure. The very next possession,
Michigan manufactured a 10-play,
75-yard touchdown drive to regain the
lead. When the defense surrendered it
moments later, the offense responded
again with a field goal to tie the game
(Nebraska would never lead again).

During those drives, it never seemed

as if McNamara was pressing. He still

made mistakes, but rarely were those
the product of mental lapses. On plays
where his first read wasn’t open, he
didn’t force the ball and instead opted
to find his tight ends over the middle.
He displayed the poise and calmness
that any team — especially one that’s
certain to be in close games moving
forward — needs out of its quarterback.

That’s something the Wolverines

haven’t had recently.

“I’ve always thought that that

was one of the huge tests for any


“After you throw an interception,
do they have the ability on the next
possession to drive the offense for
points? Right there, in a nutshell,
you can tell so much about any

As with everything new about

Michigan’s team, those changes didn’t
stop with one player. They were visible
in the defense, which somehow pulled
out two stops at the end after looking
helpless for most of the second half.
It permeated throughout the sideline,
which exploded with energy during

quarter light show — despite trailing
for the first time all season at that

And most of all, it shows in the

Wolverines’ record midway through
the season: 6-0. Say what you want about

the competition, the inconsistency, the
dumb errors on the road; despite all of
that, Michigan’s entering its bye week
exceeding all expectations and on the
cusp of potentially competing for a Big
Ten Championship.

Somehow, the Wolverines are

winning games. They’ve chosen to
abandon the status quo of the Harbaugh
era and embrace a new identity.

For McNamara, the motivations

behind that choice are simple:

“We’re tired of losing.”





Less than two minutes after drilling the most

important kick of his career, Jake Moody trotted onto
the field. His next one would be even bigger.

That was how the final stretch of Saturday’s

narrow win at Nebraska unfolded for the No. 8
Michigan football team’s senior kicker. With the
Wolverines trailing, 29-26, Moody’s 31-yard field goal
tied the game with 3:05 to play. And after Michigan’s
defense forced a critical turnover, Moody put the
Wolverines on top for good with a 39-yard field goal as
the clock ticked down to 1:28.

For Moody, Saturday night’s heroics are the latest

example of his consistent success. He finished 4-for-
4 on field goals and 2-for-2 on extra-point attempts,

Teams Player of the Week
honors in the process. He’s
converted 12 of his 13 field goal
tries — including a 52-yarder
against Washington — this

knocking through all 25 extra

“Jake is a part of the

offense. We can always



he’s real cold, to do what
he did on Saturday. As a

that confidence in those
situations, I just love that
from Moody.”

Similar to a baseball pitcher managing his arm, the

Wolverines’ coaches keep Moody on a “kick count.”
He kicks just three days per week — twice at practice
and once during games — in order to maintain leg
strength and longevity.

For the first three years of his career, Moody

split time with fellow kicker Quinn Nordin. Moody
struggled to establish rhythm after his freshman
season, missing six of his 13 field goal attempts in 2019
and 2020. But with Nordin now in the NFL, Moody
can take comfort in knowing he’s the Wolverines’
clear No. 1 option.

“It feels good going into the games knowing it’s

going to be you no matter what,” Moody said last
Tuesday. “I enjoyed having Quinn around. It made
both of us better for sure. But knowing it’s going to
be you and you’re the guy for every single kick, it’s a
pretty good feeling.”

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March

2020, Moody and Nordin were locked into a battle for
starting kicker duties. A native of Northville, Mich.,
Moody returned home to train at his high school
field. He posted a video of himself kicking a personal-
record 69-yard field goal in April and claims he made
multiple kicks from 70-plus afterwards.

But last fall, that offseason work didn’t translate to

results. Moody attempted four field goals during the
pandemic-shortened season and missed three of them.

Through the first six weeks of this season, Moody

has rebounded in a big way. Part of that comes from
a new snap operation. Fifth-year senior punter Brad
Robbins began receiving and holding junior William
Wagner’s snaps during fall camp and the results have
been encouraging.

“It’s been the confidence, the preparation,”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Saturday. “Brad

Robbins is a huge part of it, not
just because he’s the holder,
but his mental fortitude and
positive daily infusion on our
entire team, especially that
snap, hold, kick battery. …
Moody is just a straight calm,
cool, collected kind of guy.”

Now, Moody says he’s

comfortable kicking from
anywhere inside 60 yards
in good conditions. Wind
gets tricky across the Big
Ten during football season,

teams unit always takes the
field early for warmups on
game days to test out the
weather. While on the road,
Moody looks for gaps in the

top of each stadium and takes note of any wind
deflections within.

Rainfall and wind may be out of the Wolverines’

control, but those factors are closely monitored on
game days. What never changes with the weather,
however, is Moody’s visualization of success.

“I’ll be sitting up in bed, can’t fall asleep, just kind

of thinking of those different scenarios,” Moody said.
“Like kicking a game-winner in the Big House against
Ohio State. Stuff like that. Going into every game,
I like to think of different kicks. Could be a game-
winner, could be an extra point.

“I feel like once you visualize that kick in your

head, once you get out there on the field, you feel a lot
more comfortable since you’ve already kind of seen it
through your head.”

On Saturday night in Lincoln, that dream of a

game-winning kick became a reality.


Michigan senior kicker Jake Moody kicked
Saturday’s game-winning field goal.


Michigan junior quarterback Cade McNamara is playing with confidence.

Inside Moody’s emergence as a
reliable, game-changing kicker


Michigan junior quarterback Cade McNamara took ownership of this team.


Daily Sports Editor

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