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December 08, 2021 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily

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On Sunday, the No. 2 Michigan football

team learned its postseason fate: A trip to
Miami to face No. 3 Georgia in the Orange
Bowl. While the Bulldogs’ recent loss to
Alabama toppled them from their long-held
No. 1 spot, it’s hard to picture a National
Championship game without them in it.

But, as the Wolverines have said all

season, they aren’t flinching.

“We’re gonna be looking forward to it,”

junior quarterback Cade McNamara said
Sunday. “We know that it’ll be a challenge for
us, and they have a good defense, but I think
we’ve got a solid team ourselves. So I know
that we’ll be confident, and I know we’re
gonna be looking forward to it.”

While the team will take a short break

to regroup before resuming practice,
McNamara — known for his meticulous
preparation — said he would start watching
tapes later that afternoon.

For much of the season, it looked like

Georgia was in a league of its own.

The Bulldogs have averaged close to

200 yards on the ground and 250 yards
through the air en route to a 12-1 record.
They have a defense that’s held four teams
to a touchdown or less and three more
absolutely scoreless, giving up an average
of 9.53 points per game. They opened the
season by holding then-No. 3 Clemson to
just a field goal and followed it up just under
a month later with a 37-0 thrashing of then
No. 8 Arkansas, performances that were
good enough to snatch the No. 1 spot early
in the season and hold it tight up until the

conference championship week.

But after Georgia’s blowout loss on

Saturday, many in the Wolverines’ camp
were hoping the dominant win against Iowa
would be enough to propel Michigan to the

“I thought we should have been No. 1,”

senior edge Aidan Hutchinson said. “I mean,
we just beat the number two team in the
country and the number 13, but it is what it is.
I mean, we’re in it. And we’re all so excited to
play in Miami.”

While the seeming nonchalance could be

hiding a greater sense of disappointment, it
might just be genuine gratitude for how far
the Wolverines have come. They started the
season with mediocre expectations, many
outside the facility anticipating a 7-5 ceiling
for their season. Now, they’re the only team
in history to make the College Football

Playoff after starting the season unranked.

Still, when asked whether there was any

point in the season where they realized a
Playoff berth could really be in their future,
each player gave a similar response:

“I never actually gave up on this team,”

sophomore receiver Roman Wilson said. “I
thought we could be one of the best teams
in the nation. Even when I committed here,
I still believed that. And I want to say I’m not
surprised but really happy with what this
team has done.”

Added graduate defensive back Brad

Hawkins: “After the Michigan State loss,
we all had a player-led meeting. We didn’t
let that game define us. We continued to
push. We continued to move on as a unit.
The leadership in this building is amazing.
We just kept hammering at it, kept grinding
at it. We didn’t get satisfied. We continue to

just grind it out. We knew that to come to this
point we’d have to win out and we did that.
We just continued to believe in each other,
we stayed together.

“And we got it done.”
Now, the Wolverines have a national

semi-final clash with Georgia to show for it.



Ten Championship, a 17-year title
drought and a chance at the College
Football Playoff lay on the line
Saturday. There was absolutely no
need for extra motivation.

And yet, the shoulder of every

Michigan football player, coach and
staff member bore a patch: a block
‘O,’ with the initials ‘TM’ and the
number 42. It was to honor Tate
Myre, a 16 year old high school
student who played football and
wrestled. A student that passed
away in the shooting in his high
school on Tuesday in Oxford, Mich.

After the tragedy, this game

found far more meaning than
championship hopes. It was about
being there for a family in its time of
need, and this team — like it has on
the football field nearly every time
this season — rose to the occasion
during its title-clinching victory
over No. 13 Iowa.

“You know, it’s a community

that needs all of our prayers, every
one of them,” Michigan coach Jim
Harbaugh said. “And we just, we
wanted to offer that up. We wanted
to offer our prayers. They’re a
community that desperately needs
it and offer them up to the one who
conquered death and also honor
Tate Myre and his bravery, his

Besides just wearing the patch,

the Myre family was also in
Indianapolis and joined the team for
the coin toss.

So, with the biggest game of its

season coming up, Michigan had
its eyes focused on something else:
the Myre family. And, as always,
the Wolverines’ leader stepped into
the foreground. Senior edge rusher
Aidan Hutchinson, less than a week
after making a Heisman Trophy
statement game, thought the team

needed to honor Tate.

So he went to Harbaugh.
“And so, you know, when the

players — when Aidan came to me —
and wanted to dedicate this game to
Tate Myre, (I said), ‘You know, yes,
let’s do that,’ ” Harbaugh said. “Let’s
do that. That was, that was huge.”

These Wolverines have never

needed anyone to motivate them
externally, but, as their repeated
exclamations of ‘2%’ and ‘6-6’ came

bursting out of the locker room
on Saturday night showed, a little
outside motivation couldn’t hurt. To
play for a community in Michigan,
in a team made up of leaders from
Michigan, that dedication pushed
the Wolverines to play as best they

“We talked about it last night,”

Harbaugh said. “What more,
how much more can we pile into
one game, the importance of one

Graduate student center Andrew

Vastardis added: “And on top of it,
we wanted to play for 42, all those
that tragically lost their lives in that
community and everything.”


Saturday’s game became about

such a high where Michigan finally
threw the monster off its back, how
would they respond and focus on
the next game? Then, the tragedy
in Oxford added even more to that
emotional turbulence.

So, when Donovan Edwards

dove over the top of a pile to score
the Wolverines’ sixth touchdown
of the game and Jake Moody hit his
sixth extra-point down the middle
of the uprights to make the score a
42-3 statement, it meant more.

“Goosebumps,” Hutchinson said.
“Chills,” Vastardis said.
Now, instead of 42 just on the

shoulders of Michigan to honor Tate
Myre and Oxford, that number will
be written into the history books.

Managing Sports Editor

The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com
Wednesday, December 8, 2021 — 11

In Saturday’s championship game,
Tate Myre became a part of history


Managing Sports Editor

Michigan looks forward to Georgia despite not receiving No. 1 ranking

SportsMonday: Don’t doubt Michigan anymore

On Dec. 31st, Michigan will play for

everything. In a season that began full
of doubt and low expectations, it beat
Ohio State. It beat Wisconsin and Iowa.

every obstacle and
trial sent its way
so far, including
rebounding after


Michigan State.

On New Year’s

Eve, in the College

the Wolverines will play Georgia.
Alabama or Cincinnati await, should
they win.

And, after the past two weeks,

Michigan could very well be the best
team in the country.

It’s certainly shown its weaknesses:

Cade McNamara won’t blow your
socks off, and its defense lets up yards to
talented offenses. But the rest of those
teams have weaknesses, too.

In its biggest test of the year, Georgia

allowed 536 yards of offense, with
421 through the air. Its previously
unflappable defense showed glaring
holes. Stetson Bennett IV can manage
and lead the team to victory, but he
struggled coming from behind.

“General impressions are rugged,”

Jim Harbaugh said of Georgia on
Sunday. “It’s a rugged, tough, tough
squad that plays extremely well on
all sides of the ball and special teams.
Gonna be really excited to dig into it and
study them. But yeah, that’s the word
that came to my mind.”

Alabama struggled against Auburn

and at Texas A&M with a young Bryce

Young looking overwhelmed and the
offense looking stagnant. Perhaps after
walloping Georgia, the Crimson Tide
has found itself. Perhaps not.

Then there’s Cincinnati, which

possesses the nation’s longest unbeaten
streak. They’ve squashed nearly every
team they’ve faced this season, including
No. 5 Notre Dame, but the same
questions have persisted throughout
their season: What happens when they
play an opponent like Alabama that’s
incredibly talented?


Michigan has established itself as
the No. 2 team in the country, and
there are few who would argue it.
It’s outperformed every expectation
that those outside the program have
had for it, and on New Year’s Eve, the
expectation is a loss. Georgia opened
as a one-touchdown favorite, and very
few outside the program would expect
the Wolverines to win.

But Michigan knows how good of a

team it is.

“I think when we beat (Ohio State),

we knew we can — we’re a really good
football team — and we got a really
good chance to win (the semifinal),
because Ohio State was a really talented
team,” senior defensive lineman Aidan
Hutchinson said.

Michigan has the best rushing game

of the remaining four teams, gaining 30
more yards on the ground than the next
best team in the playoff — the Bulldogs.
It has the second-best 3rd-down
conversion percentage, with 45.1%, and
the second-best 3rd-down defense, with
32.3%, both behind the Crimson Tide.

This year, where talent and coaching

are even, it seems that what matters

most is an identity and dedication. The
Wolverines have mastered both over
the course of the season.

“Toughness is something that we

take to heart and that we have made our
identity,” Michigan quarterback Cade
McNamara said. “And I really — I just
love the identity that we’ve created, no
matter what the style of football is at this
day and age.”

The last two games, in its toughest

stretch of the season, that identity
has worn down opponents and led to
second-half explosions. McNamara
has been clinical, hitting his targets and
making the plays he needs to. But above
that, there’s the element that is perhaps
most surprising: Michigan’s big plays.

Saturday’s double pass for 75 yards

and Blake Corum’s run for 67 yards,
are just the beginning of an offense
that repeatedly gains large chunks of
yards. The Wolverines totaled eight
plays of 15-plus yards in the Big Ten
Championship Game, breaking open
a defense that is one of the best in the

Michigan has been doubted week

after week, including by me, but with
just two weeks left, no one should doubt
the Wolverines.

Because they may just win the

National Championship.


Sophomore running back Blake Corum rushed for a 67
yard touchdown in the Big Ten Championship Game.


The Michigan football team scored 42
points on Saturday, the jersey number
Oxford student Tate Myre wore.


Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh won his first Big

Ten Championship a year after going 2-4.

Josh Gattis made a mad dash for the


For the second straight week, the Michigan

football team had done
something that, a few
months prior, seemed
unthinkable. Even before
the confetti fell from


throttling of Iowa, Gattis
and his analysts had


celebration of the program’s first Big Ten
Championship since 2004.

For Gattis individually, though, the win

meant even more. His offense’s performance
— a complete, 42-point dismantling of one
of the nation’s top defenses statistically —
represented the full realization of a vision that,
in prior years, had failed to materialize.

It was abundantly clear: The efforts of

Gattis, Jim Harbaugh and the entire offense
had fully borne fruit.

“I think (it’s) just the commitment from

both sources — coach Gattis and then us
believing in him,” sophomore running back
Blake Corum said.

That commitment has taken time. The

program Gattis joined in 2019 — one that was
entering its fifth season with Jim Harbaugh
at the helm — ran an archaic, uninspiring
offense that had visibly reached its ceiling.
Gattis had the potential to fix that; he brought
promises of modern schemes and a catchy
“speed in space” slogan, a refreshing message
for an offense that, up to that point, looked
anything but modern.

In Gattis’ first two years, though, the

offense lacked an identity. At times, it
made little sense, featuring gimmicky two-
quarterback systems and wildcat packages
that only helped it get in its own way. Soon, it
became a question whether the same fate that
doomed promising Michigan offenses of old
— the “innovations” of Rich Rodriguez, of Pep
Hamilton, of offensive coordinators dating
back to the Wolverines’ last conference title —
would come to meet Josh Gattis.

It didn’t. Where other coaches in

Michigan’s past had doubled down on their
failures, Gattis adapted. Instead of forcing
his offense into a pass-first system with
personnel not suited to it, he looked at the
talent in his running backs room and on his

offensive line and worked with Harbaugh to
accentuate it.

“He committed to the run game early,”

Corum said. “In the interview (prior to the
season), he said last year he didn’t really focus
on the run game. He’s been a tremendous play

Harbaugh, too, learned from Gattis. The

head coach’s fingerprints are all over the
Wolverines’ offense — they’re most visible
in the old-fashioned power runs that have
opened up space for the backs all season.
But he’s also allowed Gattis’ own creativity
to flourish. On Saturday, that was evident in
Michigan’s multiple big plays, in the double
pass for a touchdown from freshman running
back Donovan Edwards, in the flea flicker
that’s called basically every week and in the
endless jet sweeps and end arounds that — yes
— put speed in space.

The results are easy to see. The Wolverines

have gone from tallying 381.3 yards per game
last year to 451.9 this year. In both of their
biggest two games of the season — against
Ohio State last week and the Hawkeyes on
Saturday — they’ve put up 42 points and over
450 yards. From the eye-test standpoint, the
offense is playing with as much confidence as
any team in the country and having fun while
doing it.

“Toughness is something that we take to

heart and that we have made our identity,”
junior quarterback Cade McNamara said. “I
just love the identity that we’ve created, no
matter what the style of football is at this day
and age.”

Truthfully, the offense that Gattis and

Harbaugh have crafted together has been a
long time coming. When Gattis first arrived
on campus, he struggled to live up to the
expectations placed upon him to shape a
championship-caliber system.

Now, with a Big Ten Championship under

his belt and as a finalist for the Broyles Award
— given to the nation’s top assistant coach
every year — Gattis has proven that he belongs
at Michigan. Through the speed bumps the
program has hit along the way, both he and
Harbaugh have managed to adapt and help
build a true contender.

“We’ve really had the mentality of

‘Michigan versus everybody,’ ” McNamara
said. “I just don’t know much to say other than
I love these dudes. Like, really.”

That mentality has lifted the Wolverines to

new heights. Soon, we’ll see if they hit a ceiling.

Gattis, Harbaugh realize their vision





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