I Want To Believe

Photo: Tyler Carlton
Okay...listen. I'm not really going to do a deep dive into this Indiana game. We all saw it. We all saw Michigan start out a little flat but then kick it into high gear about midway through the 2nd quarter and steamroll an admittedly good Hoosier squad. Like the typical upstart underdog Indiana usually is, they gave Michigan their best punch...but it was clear as the 1st half ended, this wasn't going to go the way the Crimson Quarry warriors wanted. They may end up being #9windiana this year...but not yesterday.

What we saw as this game progressed was exactly what we saw last week against Michigan State...and that is a Michigan team, and more specifically a Michigan offense that is starting to understand what they are. Michigan's offense is peaking in a big way and in the best way. It all starts up front with the offensive line. They gave Patterson all day to throw yesterday and man did Shea deliver. He was 20 of 32 for 366 yards and 5 touchdowns passes, 3 of which to standout receiver Nico Collins who ended the day with 6 catches for 165 yards, his best outing of the season.

My personal highlight of the game was Ronnie Bell's touchdown grab on Michigan's opening drive. Bell is Michigan's leading receiver but the endzone has eluded him this season, until yesterday. So it was wonderful to see him finally get a TD grab.

But what impressed me most yesterday was not the individual performances, but rather the focus this team seemed to have despite the daunting task a week away. After a slow start, Michigan dominated Indiana physically the way you would expect a Michigan team to do. It was about as satisfying of a win versus the pesky Hoosiers as I've seen in a long time.

It was the kind of win you want to see the week before a game like this.


For pretty much the whole season, I've been dreading this week. Like most of you, I feel this game. I feel this rivalry. Ever since the Army game, when Michigan's offense seemed lost in the woods all the while Ohio State's entire team seemingly hadn't missed a beat since waiving so long to Urban Meyer, the greatest coach in their storied history...I've been dreading this week.

But that was then.

Now, I'm not going to say Michigan is going to beat Ohio State on Saturday afternoon, but after seeing what we saw yesterday against Penn State, the Buckeye's aren't as invincible as previously assumed. They're damn good, but not unbeatable. Plus, the difference between Michigan in week 2 and Michigan now is substantial.

Shea is healthy and playing the best football of his life right now. The line is playing incredibly well. The receivers aren't just making great catches and scoring a lot of points, they're blocking downfield better than they were earlier this season. Both Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins have emerged as a dynamic 1-2 punch in the backfield. On the other side of the ball, Don Brown has molded this smaller defensive unit into one of the best in the country at pressuring the QB, stopping the run and defending the pass.

I fully expect to hear a lot this week about lessons Michigan learned from last year and that they don't really consider themselves an underdog. Which is fine. But after Karan Higdon got baited into guaranteeing a win last year, I'd prefer Schembechler Hall went full dark mode and Michigan coaches and players didn't make a peep until Saturday at noon...but this isn't really how things go I guess.

So...my initial thoughts on The Game?

Initial thoughts...as if I haven't spent the entire season thinking about this one game.

For Michigan to actually do this thing, they're going to need their best effort of the season by far. They're going to need to bring the same level of confidence they had against Notre Dame and Michigan State. They're going to need to pressure Ohio State into doing things they haven't done before. They're going to need to stop J.K. Dobbins and Justin Fields from getting loose on the ground. They're going to need to force turnovers and capitalize on those opportunities and make Ohio State pay. They're going to need to limit the explosive plays as much as possible.

And most importantly, they're going to need to be able to weather the storm when Ohio State gets clicking. Make no mistake, no matter what Michigan does defensively, Ohio State will make some big plays and score some points. They're just too damn good. It's what they do.

Michigan should be able to benefit from playing at home...although Ohio State has travelled frustratingly well to Ann Arbor over the years despite Michigan fans generally staying completely away from The Shoe when Michigan travels down there. I don't blame them, having gone to the last four Michigan games in Columbus, I can attest it's not a fun place to be. Maybe someday Michigan will flip the momentum of this rivalry...but until then, expect to see plenty of red inside Michigan Stadium on Saturday.

Regardless, despite the trajectory these two programs began the season on, they've never been closer than they are right now...and that has to play to Michigan's advantage at least somewhat. I have no doubt Ryan Day is a good coach, but this is also his first time as head coach in this game, and he's doing it in the Big House. For Michigan, Jim Harbaugh is 0-4 against the Buckeyes...a number no one hates more than he does I'm sure.

The eyes of the sporting world will be on Michigan Stadium this Saturday. Even though there's nothing more than pride to play for, Michigan's out of the Big Ten race and Ohio State has already punched their ticket to Indy...it's still The Game. If I were a betting man, I'd take the Buckeyes to win. I mean I'm as optimistic as anyone but, in this matchup...the way it's gone for the last 15 years, I'm gonna need to see it to believe it.

But I want to believe.

Beat Ohio State.

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