Beat Ohio? Yes. They. Can.
Michigan is peaking at the right time, but it was last season, too. Only to see a dominating "revenge tour" end with one of the biggest face plants in the program's history. So it's not just the peaking, although undoubtedly Michigan is playing as well as any team in college football right now.
However, this time it's why and how they're peaking that seems different.
The evolution of Michigan football into a modern offense capable of beating teams multiple ways when it can't just beat them up, appears complete. Furthermore, Shea Patterson has suddenly and shockingly become the star quarterback the Wolverines needed, just when it seemed as if it wasn't ever going to happen.
Both of these truths were on full display in Michigan's 39–14 "trap game" victory over probably the best team Indiana has had in a quarter century. For the second straight game, the Wolverines failed to rush for a 100 yards. Nonetheless, for the second straight game the Wolverines were nearly unstoppable on offense, and got to coast in the fourth quarter, thanks to Patterson and the passing attack putting up video game numbers.
Patterson became the first Michigan quarterback to ever throw for four touchdowns or more in consecutive games. He's had an impressive 200 or better passer rating in consecutive games. Nine different receivers caught passes for the second consecutive game. Patterson could be the Big Ten Player of the Week for the second consecutive week as well.
There's no better symbol for what rookie offensive coordinator Josh Gattis has done here than Nico Collins. A month ago, it looked likely Collins might elect to leave early for the NFL Draft as one of the most frustratingly untapped talents in recent memory. A combination of size and speed that should be a nightmare for just about any college defense, unless that defense was Michigan's. Just as it was once said his own college coach, Dean Smith, was the only coach who could hold Michael Jordan under 20 points, the Wolverines' offensive approach all too often did opponents a favor by making Collins irrelevant.
But on Saturday we got Collins unleashed, and what a Braylon Edwards impersonation it was with a career-high 165 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
And here's the thing, Patterson and the Wolverines could've had more. Similar to last week against Michigan State, they out-performed all the predictions and still left points and plays out there on the field. That means the ceiling is still high, which is good, because The Game is nigh.
I don't need to remind anyone reading this how much Ohio State has dominated this rivalry for far too long now. And many believe this is the most explosive bunch of Buckeyes they've brought to the Big House yet.
But earlier in the day at the Horseshoe, Penn State proved the Buckeyes can bleed like any other men. That they're terrific, yes, but they're not immortal. The Nittany Lions showed up, punched Ohio State in the mouth, and had the Buckeyes wobbling a bit in the ring during the later rounds. Give Ohio State credit for taking that shot and still holding on, but now it'll have to prove it can do it on the road in a hostile environment.
The Buckeyes have yet to do so, because all of their most important games have been at home. They didn't have to go to tough Big Ten road atmospheres, Mad Town and the White Out, like Michigan did.
Nor did Penn State have any semblance of a passing game to keep the Buckeyes honest. In fact, next week both Michigan and Ohio State will each face the most explosive passing attacks they've yet to see.
Still, don't forget the title here. It says Michigan can beat Ohio State, not that it will. The Buckeyes will be double-digit favorites, and deserve to be. They are the better, and more talented team. They're headed to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship, again, and Michigan isn't, again, for a reason.
But the Wolverines aren't going to be asked to better than Ohio State for 12 games next Saturday—only one. And this is a rivalry replete with its one shining moments, including for the team in the winged helmets. Who can forget Tim Biakabutuka keeping it 300 in 1995, Desmond Howard striking the pose in 1991, Charles Woodson polishing off the Heisman in 1997, and Chris Perry in the 100th rendition of The Game in 2003?
Note how long ago those Michigan moments were, though. Some might be tempted to say they're due, but the Wolverines have been due since before Taylor Swift wrote her first break-up song. You're never just due against this Ohio State program, you have to come and take it from them.
Just like the Wolverines famously did 50 years ago, when a two-loss Michigan team was given little chance against a Buckeye squad considered a team of the century candidate. And the Wolverines did this with many of the same players who put an embarrassing beatdown on Michigan in a battle of top–10 teams the year before.
The circumstances leading up to both of these games are eerie in their similarities. Michigan can only hope the final game results will be as well.
And hope is more than the Wolverines had just a few weeks ago.