Jim Harbaugh’s Legacy Hangs in Balance

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Jim Harbaugh
Urban Meyer head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes and Jim Harbaugh head coach of the Michigan Wolverines shake hands after the game. Ohio State won 31 to 20 on November 25, 2017 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The date is November 18th, 2000. The day of another historical rendition of the heated Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry. While neither the Buckeyes or Wolverines were in the running for a national championship, the opportunity for year-long bragging rights enhanced the magnitude of this match-up. In front of the 104,000 Buckeyes fan base at Ohio Stadium, it would be the road team that would put on a show. Michigan quarterback Drew Henson went 14 of 25 for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Wolverines defensive back Julius Carry had a crucial pick-six. In a rare road victory, Michigan would win 38-26, silencing the crowd of the Ohio State faithful.

It would be the last time Michigan won at Ohio State. The last time the Wolverines have beaten the Buckeyes anywhere was in 2011, when Brady Hoke was the head coach. With Jim Harbaugh at the helm, the Michigan Wolverines are in prime position to defeat the Buckeyes for the first time in Columbus in 18 years.

“We’re just working hard to make darn sure we do everything we possibly can to win this football game,” Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh Brought Into Michigan To Win Big Games

As a former Michigan Wolverines quarterback, Harbaugh knows the importance of sustaining a winning culture. The last time Michigan won a bowl game was the 2011 Sugar Bowl. But the years that followed were miserable for Wolverines supporters, capped off by a season worst 5-7 record in 2014. The move to sign Harbaugh made the most sense for a school looking to transform its identity.

As a head coach before arriving at Michigan, Harbaugh had demonstrated tremendous success. He took the Stanford Cardinal into relevance as a football program, highlighted by their 2010 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech with Andrew Luck as quarterback. Four days after winning the Orange Bowl, Harbaugh signed a multi-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers. In his first three seasons as head coach, he took the 49ers to three consecutive NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl appearance. The animated head coach made the most sense for a Michigan program struggling to find its identity in the earlier part of this decade.

Wins Against Big Ten Rivals Haven’t Materialized for Harbaugh

Entering his fourth season with the Wolverines, Harbaugh has yet to win a bowl game. The Michigan coach was 1-6 against critical rivals, including Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State.

His first crack at Ohio State ended up being a 42-15 rout at The Big House. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 214 yards on 30 attempts with two touchdowns. In 2016, Michigan lost a heartbreaking 30-27 overtime loss to Ohio State, overshadowed by a controversial 4th down spot that saw Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett get a first down instead of a turnover on downs. In 2017, after leading the first quarter 7-0, the Buckeyes outscored the Wolverines 31-13, once again dominating Harbaugh’s Michigan squad.

“This is just not one game on the schedule,” said Harbaugh. “I always look at pressure as life-giving energy. I am ready for this challenge.”

For Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer, this game presents an opportunity for his team to show their true identity. To say this season has been a roller coaster for Ohio State is a massive understatement. From Meyer being suspended for three games for his role in the Zach Smith controversy to being blown out by Purdue, the Buckeyes have not played up to expectations. This is why a win against Michigan would not only qualify Ohio State for the Big Ten Championship, but show that this Buckeyes team is much better than advertised.

“The amount of time and effort that you put into these games, and certainly there’s no bigger than this, the word pressure absolutely is there,” Meyer said at his news conference in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday. “For someone to say there’s no pressure, that’s not true.”

The “Revenge Tour” Presents Golden Opportunity for Michigan

This season for Michigan has been dubbed the “Revenge Tour.” It’s a chance for Harbaugh’s squad to avenge the losses to those heated rivals. It’s also a chance to prove to the nation why Michigan belongs as one of America’s best college teams.

The Wolverines beat Michigan State 21-7, followed by a 42-7 route over the Penn State Nittany Lions. But no win will feel as sweet as a victory against their focal point archrival Ohio State.

This is by far the best team that Harbaugh has fielded for the Wolverines. They currently are first in the nation defensively in terms of fewest yards allowed and have a high octane offence, led by quarterback Shea Patterson and running back Karan Higdon, who is second in the Big Ten in rushing yards with (1,106 yards). For Higdon, a senior for Michigan, this game is more than just any contest this season. It is a historical moment to go on the road and claim the Big Ten East. It would send Michigan to the Big Ten Championship for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

“I believe firmly in my brothers, this team and this coaching staff. As a captain, I’ll take that stand,” said Higdon. 

“You’re with the guys who are from Ohio, who are enemies within their own state. You embody that rivalry game for them. This game is history, it’s historic,” said Michigan defensive tackle Carlo Kemp. “This is the game everybody plays for. You want to go out there and you want to win for them, you want to win for your brothers.”

 

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