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Sport Harbaugh keeps promise as Wolverines finds their identity

19:05  27 october  2019
19:05  27 october  2019 Source:   freep.com

No. 16 Michigan avoids collapse, beats Illinois 42-25

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The Wolverines finally turned a corner and started looking more like a Jim Harbaugh team. And if you’re looking for the moment Michigan’s head coach found something that clicked offensively this season, when the Wolverines finally turned a corner and started looking more like one of those teams

The Michigan Wolverines found their identity in Jim Harbaugh Year 1. They are the perfect reflection of their head coach. Red meat has become the And more importantly, they took another step forward — separating themselves a little further from a past that kept folks around here in a regularly foul mood.

It’s easy to look back now and wonder. From where you sit, anyway. From where I sit, too.

What if Michigan football doesn’t fumble at the 4-yard line of Wisconsin during its first drive of the game back in September? What if the Wolverines tie the game instead?

Do they keep their heads aloft? Do they keep their shoulders from sagging? Do they dig into the Badgers the way they dug into Notre Dame Saturday night?

What if U-M doesn’t start slowly against Penn State? Or makes one more play at the end of the game and sends it into overtime?

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Interesting as the finding was, Brooks' explanation seemed a little flimsy. I wondered if there was more to it than that. I'd think that the people who love In other words, if you're kind of up-tight, obsessive, or simply fastidious about most things, you're going to follow through on promises made to the person

The Wolverines did this all throughout 2016, and then one of their assistants left for UCLA. Michigan keeps lining up in a 10-man centipede formation, and now UCLA does, too. “Just something that my son Jay found and came up with,” Harbaugh said. Jay Harbaugh , 27, is Michigan’s tight ends coach.

Are we having a different conversation? Are we thinking about how U-M will likely overwhelm Michigan State in a couple of weeks and may be ready to take Ohio State into the fourth quarter a couple of weeks after that?

It's hard not to think about these questions after watching the Wolverines throttle Notre Dame, 45-14, Saturday night at Michigan Stadium. Hard not to wonder what might have been.

Unfortunately for U-M, this is how college football works. It’s unforgiving and unrelenting, with little time to build and less time to adapt.

And even less time to carve out an identity, though I’m thinking U-M found one.

What is it?

Let offensive lineman Michael Onwenu explain. He of the five-man bulldozing unit that pushed the Fighting Irish almost all the way back to South Bend.

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Jim Harbaugh has captured his first signature win as Michigan’s head coach. The Wolverines pummeled 22nd-ranked BYU on Saturday, thoroughly dominating the 17. It’s possible Saturday was the Wolverines at their absolute best, and that regression in coming weeks is largely inevitable.

Harbaugh made note of many other negative aspects of the locker room, which included it being unsanitary, no doors on bathroom stalls, too small, and unsportsmanlike. Harbaugh also stated how there is no on-site capabilities for a player to get an X-Ray done.

“We can attack you however we want to,” he said, when asked to describe the identity he and his teammates are forging.

It just took a while to get here. Though his coach, Jim Harbaugh, has promised this was coming for a while. Heck, he told a sideline reporter in Beaver Stadium during halftime that his Wolverines were coming.

They did. And almost knocked off Penn State after falling behind by three touchdowns.

This team discovered something about itself in that game late in the second quarter. Learned that its collective force in the trenches — on both sides — is formidable.

How’s that for an identity?

In the NFL, if a team wins as these Wolverines just did, a week after a second-half blitz on the road nearly led to a stunning come-from-behind win, you’d buy stock in what the coaches and players were selling.

You’d start thinking about the postseason, and the possibilities of where an emerging group might end up. In the NFL, there is time to build. More important, there is time to make mistakes, to learn lessons, to pass tests.

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Michigan Wolverines ' punch-less offense suffered from an identity crisis for most of the season. The plan has to sharpen moving forward. The Wolverines started the season with plenty of inexperienced players who had plenty of stuff heaped onto their plates, and the offensive scheme was a mixed bag

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These are possible in the college game, too. It’s just easier to forget, because a single slip-up often means the end of postseason dreams. Certainly, a couple of slip-ups ends all hope of a playoff.

This is where the Wolverines sit.

So, where do they go from here?

Well, a two-loss season would quiet a lot of chatter around this program. That’s still possible. That would be helpful for Harbaugh.

And helpful for his players.

They need more nights like Saturday. To feel the defense swarming and the offense rolling and the 100,000-plus fans in the stadium roaring.

It had been a while since Harbaugh’s Wolverines took the field against a top-10 team and throttled them. No, demoralized them.

That was easy to see Saturday night under the lights, when the rain finally lifted, and Notre Dame’s shoulders began to sag. And by the time senior running back Tru Wilson took a handoff, cut to his left, and scooted 27 yards for a touchdown, it was all over but the dancing.

Not that Michigan fans dance much. But for the first time in a few years, no one would’ve blamed them.

Now, maybe the No. 7 Fighting Irish aren’t that good. They arrived in Ann Arbor with a 5-1 record, a loss to Georgia and a narrow win over middling Southern Cal.

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Harbaugh is also taking advantage of what could be his final chance to take his Wolverines on a spring road trip. On Friday, the Power Five conferences Many viewed that as a brazen attempt to establish the Wolverines ’ brand in fertile recruiting ground, and while the SEC voted 13-1 for the rule

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Still, they were a top-10 team. A playoff team a year ago. A roster built on top-flight recruiting classes and several future pros.

So … U-M took the field against a team of equal — or near-equal — talent and blitzed it. The defense played a lot like it did in the second half at Penn State, forcing repeated three-and-outs.

The Wolverines forced nine punts — nine. The held the Fighting Irish to 47 yards rushing and 133 passing, nearly 300 yards below its combined average.

Yes, it’s fair to wonder about Notre Dame’s schedule. It’s no longer fair, though, to wonder about U-M's mental toughness.

Not anymore.

A week ago, Michigan showed that Harbaugh was right about his team getting close.

It also showed how far it had come since Wisconsin, when that early fumble led to droopy heads and a dispirited sideline. The Wolverines didn’t yet know how to compete that day in Madison. Nor were they quite sure who they were.

Though they had a sense of what was inside of them.

“I believe we’ve always had it,” said sophomore linebacker Cameron McGrone. It just took until “the second half against Penn State (to find) what we can do.”

You can argue the team found it too late. And it might be, if all that matters is a Big Ten title.

Sometimes, though, progress in one season can carry over into the next. Changes that are difficult in one September might be muscle memory by the next.

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Jim Harbaugh is optimized blog fodder, more experience than Michigan Man, the largest presence in a sport full of outsize characters. During Wolverines games, he presides with hands on knees like it’s 1986 and he’s once again a winged-helmeted All-American quarterback in the Wolverines huddle.

Harbaugh is a kind of seeker. That's a helpful quality in a coach. But it’s not always easy for the players, who must adapt to whatever the coach eventually sees.

For most of this season, his team got caught between visions. A few players admitted as much after the loss in Wisconsin, suggesting they weren’t sure how they were supposed to riff off one another.

That hesitancy led to slow and uncertain starts. It bit U-M at Penn State.

Yet in that comeback the Wolverines discovered who they were supposed to be. Against Notre Dame, they showed us.

They embraced the rain and tuned out the critical noise and blasted the Fighting Irish at the point of attack from the first play of the game.

U-M ran for 303 yards, led by Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet. They ran through holes as wide as Lake Superior, and when they met defenders in the secondary, they ran over them.

Or leapt over them.

Or stiff-armed them, as Haskins did on a 49-yard run in the third quarter after Notre Dame had cut the lead to 10. His burst up the middle set up a Shea Patterson touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones, and whatever hope the Fighting Irish had was gone.

For the first time all season, and maybe the first time in a couple of years, the Wolverines took the field against a respectable opponent and played with the kind of force Harbaugh’s best teams used to do.

Yes, maybe it came a week too late.

Yet progress is still worth something, right? Because Harbaugh’s program finally showed some.

“That's why I have so much respect for our players,” he said. “They’ve had some tests, taken some criticism, but the mindset to keep working and growing ... (it’s a) great lesson for them. Because not everybody can do that.”

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Harbaugh ’s plan to recruit all over proves beneficial. The 28 players in the class came from 13 states, including six each from N.J. and Fla This week, Mark Snyder interviews 247Sports Michigan football recruiting expert Steve Lorenz about the Wolverines ' impressive haul on National Signing Day 2016.

Harbaugh was talking about the call that came from above Saturday in Bloomington, with Michigan in double-overtime against Indiana, and the Harbaugh didn’t want to hear any of that Monday, scoffing at the notion he’d actually raised himself Saturday while referencing his injury-battered defensive line.

No, they can’t.

And that’s worth something, too.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Jim Harbaugh keeps his promise as Michigan football finds its identity

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