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Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh entered the 2021 season with more questions than answers surrounding his Wolverines’ program. A 2-4 campaign in the COVID-19 shortened season prompted Harbaugh to replace most of his coaching staff.
A change was needed and so far, so good. No. 19 Michigan are 3-0 and have outscored opponents 141-34. Headlines have all been positive and any talk of firing Harbaugh has been shut down. So what’s the reason for the success this season? One simple thing, Harbaugh said.
“The biggest thing is just how hard they’re playing,” said Harbaugh at Monday’s press conference. “And they’re having fun doing it. Good things happen when you play hard. Energy. Energy just finds the ball, whether you’re on defense or you’re on offense. The ball finds you.”
Playing hard may seem like an expectation, but it hasn’t always been the case on Harbaugh’s previous teams. The quarterback position has also flourished thus far under junior Cade McNamara after floundering under Joe Milton last season, who transferred to Tennessee. McNamara has a QB rating of 175.8 to go along with three touchdowns and no picks.
Perhaps the biggest shift in the offense however, is the emergence of an elite running game. The one-two punch of senior Hassan Haskins and sophomore Blake Corum have combined for 11 touchdowns and 7.1 yards per carry. Corum in particular has been one of the best backs in college football, third in the nation in rushing with 407 yards.
Of course, you need an offensive line to do much of the work to allow the running game to thrive, and that has no doubt happened. Harbaugh said that’s the key to the offense and has been a game changer in the team’s approach.
“Just playing with a lot of want-to, playing with a lot of energy, playing really hard,” Harbaugh said. “See it in the secondary. You see it, really, at all positions. See it in the offensive line. And the tight ends. And the receivers.
“Some of the hustle in the downfield blocking coming from (left tackle Ryan) Hayes 15 or 25 yards downfield. Or Roman Wilson or Erick All. (Tight end Luke) Schoonmaker had some tremendous blocks, touchdown-type of blocks and they’re occurring 10, 20, 30, 40 yards — we even had a 50-yard block downfield. Like I said, good things happen when you play hard.”
With the hot start, some fans are daring to ask the question: is this the year Harbaugh finally beats Ohio State? You can argue it’s the season to do it, as the Buckeyes have been vulnerable through three contests and have slipped to No. 10 in the AP Poll.
Should Harbaugh not get it done this year, then he may never get it done. And Harbaugh might not get another chance in Ann Arbor. But that’s down the line. Right now, Michigan fans can rejoice that the Wolverines look great going into conference play this weekend.
The Wolverines will host Rutgers (3-0) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on ABC.