'We're expecting the same thing.' Michigan confident about 2022 showdown vs. Ohio State
INDIANAPOLIS – Eight months ago, Michigan ended a decade of futility against Ohio State.
The Wolverines' 42-27 victory in Ann Arbor propelled them to the Big Ten title and their first berth in the College Football Playoff.
It came after Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh vowed last July to beat Ohio State "or die trying." Michigan believes that victory provided the foundation for a new era of success.
"It's been a tremendous offseason for the Michigan Wolverine football program," he said Tuesday at Big Ten media days. "Our guys, from literally days after our final game last year, have been at work attacking everything they do. There has been zero entitlement the entire offseason and none really in the foreseeable future, so life is good."
Much has changed within the program, though. Dominating defensive end Aidan Hutchinson is in the NFL, as are other stars such as safety Daxton Hill, defensive end David Ajabo and running back Hassan Haskins, who scored five touchdowns against Ohio State.
Michigan's two coordinators, Josh Gattis on offense and Mike MacDonald on defense, departed. Harbaugh interviewed for the Minnesota Vikings job but was not offered a contract.
Senior quarterback Cade McNamara said players weren't bothered by their coach's dalliance.
“Aa lot of dudes were pretty confident that he was going to stay with Michigan," he said. "He was very open about what he was doing, and the team respected him. We love coach Harbaugh, and we couldn't be happier that he came back.”
Michigan players had heard since they arrived on campus about the Wolverines' failures against Ohio State. They knew what that victory meant.
“Being from Ohio, your good friends are Ohio State fans,” said tight end Erick All, a Cincinnati native. “Even family is telling you, 'We'll be cheering for you except that game at the end of November.' You hear that non-stop. You just get tired of hearing about Ohio State. To finally take it to them felt great.”
The way Michigan dominated the Buckeyes in the trenches was a surprise to many. Not to the Wolverines.
“I watch a lot of film (on Ohio State),” All said. "And I watched a lot of film on us, too, and practice with the guys. We were expecting to do what we did. And we're going to be doing the same thing and expecting the same thing this upcoming year.
Michigan ran for 297 yards that snowy day, averaging 7.9 per carry. Ohio State ran 30 times for only 64 yards.
“In a sense, I was surprised how kind of out of hand I thought it was,” McNamara said. “I thought the gap was pretty big during that game, and I'm sure Ohio State didn't feel very good about that. I know that the O-line was very confident in themselves going into that game. Our identity last season was that we're going to be physical, and I do not see that changing.”
McNamara is not guaranteed to start this season. He and sophomore J.J. McCarthy will battle for the job.
"The best player is going to play," Harbaugh said. "We're going to know who the best player is by who plays the best. Cade McNamara is going to be really tough to beat out for the starting quarterback job. J.J. McCarthy is going to be really tough to beat out for the starting quarterback job."
For the first seven years on the job, Harbaugh faced questions about why he couldn't get over the hump, particularly his failures against Ohio State. Now he's hoping Michigan can use 2021 to serve as the foundation for continued success.
"Players that were on the team," he said, "they put in that work, they know what it was like, that good feeling of taking care of your business and having success and being rewarded for it.
"They also saw other players on the team, guys like Aidan Hutchinson Hassan Haskins and David Ojabo, who put in that work and how much it paid off for them. Using your head, using your noodle, it's pretty easy to think, 'Yeah, I want to do it just like they did it. I want to be where they are now.' It's been a continuation of that this entire offseason. It's just been tremendous."
Harbaugh said his team has four goals this year. Michigan wants to beat Ohio State and repeat as Big Ten champions. The other two are to beat Michigan State and to win the College Football Playoff championship. The Spartans handed Michigan its only regular-season loss, and Georgia beat the Wolverines 34-11 in the CFP semifinals.
In other words, the Wolverines are satisfied with last year's breakthrough.
“Part of being a leader and being a member of this team is to make sure that we don't become complacent, not just myself, but as a team,” McNamara said. “We have stressed that mentality pretty strong this offseason. Team 143 is a different team. And what Team 142 did last season doesn't really matter anymore.”
Michigan's upset of Ohio State last year has added a spark to the rivalry. The Buckeyes will be practically frothing for revenge Nov. 26 at Ohio Stadium. Michigan hasn't played in the Horseshoe since 2018.
“I'm sure it'll be pretty loud, and I'm sure it will be a lot of red,” McNamara said. “I'm excited. I've never experienced it, but I'm sure it's a pretty sweet atmosphere. It'll be fun.”