Michigan has had bigger wins than this one, and no matter how 2019 turns out the Wolverines have had better seasons, too.
But you’d be hard-pressed to come up with the last time college football’s winningest program needed a statement win this bad, and then not only got it but exceeded expectations at the same time.
Michigan’s 45-14 demolition of No.8 Notre Dame answered a lot of questions about the direction of this team, season, and program.
Can Michigan actually put together a complete four-quarter game against an opponent with a pulse? Yes.
Can Michigan win a game as an underdog? Yes.
Can Michigan beat a top 10 team? Yes.
Can Michigan master its early-season turnover problems in some of the worst playing conditions imaginable? Yes.
Does Michigan still have something to play for? Yes.
Over and over again, when forced to confront the questions that have plagued this team – and frankly the Jim Harbaugh era – the Wolverines answered not just affirmatively but emphatically. Michigan played with a purpose as well as an edge, as if someone needed to pay for all the memes, trolls, and narratives targeted at the program. Unfortunately, for the Irish, they were that someone.
Nothing was going to stop the Wolverines this night. Not Notre Dame, not Mother Nature, and not even a blocked punt.
When you get a punt blocked on your opening possession, and turn that into a 30-yard gain because of a bone-headed play by your opponent, it’s not only your night but the football gods have determined you’ve suffered enough. The scales of gridiron justice must now be tilted the other way to balance things out.
Heck, even John O’Neil’s infamous Big Ten officiating crew tried to step in the way of the maize-and-blue freight train, gifting Notre Dame its only score when the game was still somewhat competitive with a pass interference call so bad the ABC-TV crew scoffed on-air. However, not even a referee so incompetent he doesn’t know his mic is hot for several minutes of live action could ruin this moment.
Michigan simply was not going to be denied.
This wasn’t a game as much as a harmonic convergence. With all the potential this Michigan team so highly-touted all preseason had failed to display, suddenly simultaneously showing itself following such a frustrating first seven games. After nearly pulling off an epic comeback in Happy Valley last week, we all wondered if that was an outlier or trend-setter. We now have that answer, too.
But this week disappointment wasn’t the theme, redemption was.
Cesar Ruiz has probably been Michigan’s most perplexing offensive lineman this season given his prodigious talent, but Saturday he played his best game. Tru Wilson was benched after fumbling against Illinois, but he had a beautiful touchdown run. Donovan Peoples-Jones struggled with drops last week, and then made arguably the best touchdown catch of his career to put the Irish away. For the first time all season we’re not wondering why Shea Patterson didn’t keep it on the read more often.
And while there's more where that came from, the biggest redemption story of them all was Harbaugh. His program has never been more questioned than it was this week, even to the point of having to address rumors head-on he was considering an exit strategy to the NFL.
Thankfully for the Wolverines, “what’s your deal” Harbaugh made his first appearance on a Michigan sideline in many a moon. Michigan never stopped attacking on either side of the ball, even when the score got out of hand. No play may better symbolize this game then Harbaugh accepting a holding penalty on Notre Dame in the fourth quarter with a huge lead to back them up even further, rather than just letting them punt on fourth down.
Now that’s the merciless coach Michigan fans thought they were getting five years ago, and have often wondered where he’s been the past few years. Kirk Herbstreit noted on the TV broadcast Harbaugh was “sending a message” to his team as well as the college football world. And that message is this—reports of Michigan’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
The Wolverines intend to play this season out after all. Who knows, maybe this is the year they flip the script and finish strong for a change?