Identity (Michigan 31, Washington 10)

What have YOU done to beat Ohio State today?

All of the maize!

For the first time ever, Michigan successfully pulled off a true "Maize Out". We've had other close attempts in the past, but this was by far the best one yet. Hats off to all of the fans that wore their maize shirts. UM handed out pompoms to aid in the maize-ness, but I don't even think they were necessary. Didn't hurt that it was a very pleasant ~78 degrees at kickoff, too.

We're on of those schools now.

The photo above was from my pregame perch on level 6 of the pressbox...known basically as the photo open-air level of the pressbox for still and video cameras, skycam operators, band spotters, and various gameday personnel who need a wide-open view of what's going on in and above the bowl. Broadcast TV cameras are on the level below. Often during pregame and halftime, I'll venture up there for a glimpse of what's going on, some fresh air, and a view which can't be beat. Thankfully on Saturday night I had the perfect spot to watch all of the pregame festivities...which we're top notch!

To say this was one of the best memories I'll ever have from Michigan Stadium is an understatement. The playing of "Amazing Grace" in front of a completely silent 108K+ people was absolutely incredible. 

The Detroit Youth Choir's "America the Beautiful" was awesome. The 100-yard flag was so cool. The band's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner coupled with the perfect timing of a very loud F-18 flyover was the perfect way to end what was, what I considered, the most memorable and emotional pregame I've ever witnessed. I mean, seriously, there were tears.

By the time the team ran out of the tunnel and under the GO BLUE banner, the place was electric. I've never seen an opposing team take a delay of game penalty on the opening play before at the Big House. Any previous notions that Michigan Stadium is a quiet venue (which, at times, it can be...let's be honest here) were dispelled on Saturday night.

I don't know what it is about night games, but man, they're just a whole different Big House experience.


Once the game began, it was a little like stepping off a roller coaster and onto a ferris wheel. That's more a take on the pregame than it is about the game itself. It was as festive and hyped up atmosphere as I've ever seen for a football game, in any stadium. So once the game itself started, it was like "Oh yeah, there's a football game to play".

So, yeah, let's just tear in to the meat here.

Two schools of thought regarding the offense.

1. Michigan ran the ball 56 times and only threw 15 times because the run was working, and why stop doing what's working when Washington clearly couldn't stop it. The line was opening holes, Haskins and Corum (aka Thunder and Lighting) were hitting them with consistency. Plus, as Harbaugh noted in the post-game presser, why try to attack two of the best corners Michigan might face all season if you don't have to?


2. Michigan's passing game is clearly not ready for primetime. Obviously Western Michigan wasn't a true test of this offense's balance, and the injury to Ronnie Bell has only put Michigan even further behind in developing a real passing threat.

Honestly, I can see both sides. And I actually think it might be a combination of both. I'm not freaking out yet, because there's no real reason to. Plus, I surely enjoyed watching Haskins and Corum run for 326 yards and 4 touchdowns against a very good defense. At the end of the day, in this league, you need to have an effective dominant running game. Being lethal on the ground will only help Michigan's passing game over the course of the season. 

Plus, I was in the stadium in 2010 when Wisconsin's Montee Ball and James White ran for 354 yards and 6 touchdowns...including a stretch of like 24 or 25 straight runs. So for me, Saturday felt a little like retribution.

I honestly think the 48 carries Haskins and Corum had were more a clear and direct message by Harbaugh and his coaches to this offense that, yeah, you guys are really this good. Now let's be that kind of an offense and work in the pass as needed.

Some have noted that Saturday night felt more like Stanford under Harbaugh than any other game he's coached at Michigan. And I can't argue that. They were physical and played like they had a true identity as a power running football team. 

Interesting stat comparison was total plays and time of possession. Michigan and Washington ran 71 and 69 plays respectively. But Michigan had the ball for 34 minutes compared to Washington's 26 minutes. That's important because one defense is getting gashed while the other is resting on the sidelines. That kind of thing really matters over 60 minutes.

Defensively, Michigan showed up. Aidan Hutchinson showed, again, why he's a first round draft pick next season. He only tallied 4 tackles and 2.5 sacks, but his influence was felt all night on every play he was in. At times he was getting triple teamed. Josh Ross was everywhere, as was Daxton Hill. Again, the nature of game stats don't really do defensive standouts much justice. Often times just their presence can be impactful. The Huskies' longest run of the night was only 12 yards, and they only averaged 1.6 yards per rush. That's a lockdown rush defense.

Look, Washington's offense is clearly not what it used to be. Dylan Morris is a relatively solid QB. He did make some pretty impressive throws under a lot of pressure. Michigan needs to get their downfield zone pass coverage in order. Near the line of scrimmage, they're solid thanks to a ton of team speed, but the deep balls thrown into some gaping holes in secondary were an issue at times on Saturday. No doubt, Ohio State is going to exploit that if Michigan can't get it figured out.

And that's really the crux of any of the frustration Michigan fans might've felt on Saturday. How will this team perform against Ohio State? We all thought before the season that Washington would be a huge test...but their loss to Montana really lowered the bar for this game. Fair or not, being 2-0 feels way different right now than we thought it would 2 weeks ago. And while yes, Ohio State lost (!) and yes, Michigan still has some time to suss out their passing game, it just feels like the pressure for that matchup is already elevated.

Part of that is Michigan's renewed emphasis on the "What have you done to beat Ohio State today" mantra, and part of it is it's now or never for Jim Harbaugh to deliver a win in that game. Sure, there's big tests looming on the schedule before the finale. Wisconsin's always tough in Madison. Michigan State looks much improved. Penn State could be elite. But that Ohio State game is looming as large as it ever has this early in the season.

What did Michigan do to beat Ohio State on Saturday? They just might've found the offensive identity they've been looking for since Harbaugh first stepped on campus. Now, it's time to build off that and move forward. 

Because it's all Ohio State's from here on out.

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