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It’s taken 14 weeks to get here, but a Big Ten Champion has finally been crowned. For the first time since 2004 and their first outright title since 2003, the Michigan Wolverines were able to hoist the trophy high on Saturday night in Indianapolis. This was a Michigan team that wasn’t even ranked in the AP top 25 to start the season and that wasn’t expected to win the East Division, let alone secure a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Though Michigan could be considered the hottest team in college football right now, the road to the Big Ten title wasn’t without its share of potholes along the way. Early in the season, there were constant questions about whether this offense could work against more explosive teams. Beating a few MAC teams (Western Michigan and Northern Illinois) was nice and handling an injured Washington squad provided a 3-0 start, but after a rough second half against Rutgers, the offensive concerns reemerged. It was against Wisconsin where QB Cade McNamara finally completed more than 10 passes in a game. While McNamara isn’t going to be confused with Bryce Young, he has come miles from his 7-completion performance against Washington.
The Michigan State game was the ultimate canary in the coal mine for Michigan’s offensive limitations. Despite passing for nearly 400 yards, the Wolverines surrendered a 16-point 2nd half lead because they simply couldn’t convert 3rd downs or run out the clock. However, all those questions were answered against Ohio State. Michigan’s bullying ground game finally paired with an efficient passing attack, which created an almost unstoppable offensive force. Michigan then rode the emotional high for another week with a victory over Iowa.
No. 2 Michigan steamrolls No. 13 Iowa, 42-3
After their decisive victory over Ohio State, Michigan wanted to carry that momentum to a fast start against the Hawkeyes. That didn’t happen in the first two possessions. After a quick 3 and out, Michigan punted to Iowa and proceeded to yield a 10-play drive to the Hawkeyes that finally stalled at the 15 yard line.
It was not the auspicious start the Wolverines hoped for, but when the Hawkeyes missed a 33 yard field goal, the momentum shifted for good. The Wolverines got the ball back, converted on a 3rd down, courtesy of RB Donovan Edwards. Then QB Cade McNamara handed the rock off to RB Blake Corum and watched him rip off a 67 yard touchdown run.
Then another 3-and-out by the Wolverine defense set up another explosive offensive gain: a one-play drive in which Donovan Edwards tossed a halfback pass to WR Roman Wilson for a 75-yard TD catch and run.
At 14-0, the game was essentially over for the Hawkeyes. They aren’t equipped to play from behind, and the Wolverine rushing attack just overwhelmed them. Iowa QBs Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla were moderately effective, but asking them to throw the ball nearly 40 times in a game is a losing formula. To keep it close, Iowa RB Tyler Goodson needed to have over 125 yards himself, and the UM defense, led by LB Josh Ross, wasn’t about to let that happen. The Wolverines suffocated Goodson, who finished with a paltry 50 yards on 18 carries, and any hope of controlling the game.
The last few weeks, the Michigan offense has demonstrated an ability to create chunk yardage plays and score quickly. They struggled mightily in those areas early in the season, but OC Josh Gattis has done a great job of integrating some trick plays and deep play action passes to complement their potent run game. His marriage of the two keeps defenses on their heels, making it nearly impossible to stop the run. Against Georgia’s defensive front, Michigan will have to be both physical and unpredictable to keep them off balance. Jim Harbaugh and Josh Gattis have a month to build their best game plan yet.