Under a cold, gray October sky, the Michigan Wolverines rose again.
This wasn't a win for Michigan, as much as it was a cosmic reset. For it was last year's meltdown in a monsoon that resulted in Sparty pulling the upset as a double-digit underdog, and existentially altered the trajectory of each of the two bitter rivals' seasons. Sparty would go on to be the most improved team in the nation. Michigan one of the nation's most disappointing -- from preseason top 10 to unranked at the end.
And for a while in East Lansing on Saturday, it seemed as if the sequel to that horror film was being written. Setting the scene was another driving rain storm complete with hail from on high. The Wolverines again were pressing and turning it over. Seemingly wilting under the pressure of another rivalry game.
Enter Shea Patterson.
So often last season the Wolverines had to play without a quarterback. Which is difficult, obviously, considering it's the most important position on the field. After last year's loss to Ohio State, one Buckeye writer went so far as to say Michigan out-played the Buckeyes at every position but just one -- and you can probably guess which position that was.
However, this offseason Patterson, the former 5-star recruit, literally landed in the Wolverines' lap from the Bible Belt like manna from heaven.
And on this day filled with lightning, the Michigan's quarterback-redeemer fittingly dropped a feathery thunderbolt into the soft hands of Donovan Peoples-Jones, which resulted in a 79-yard touchdown pass that was more than just the go-ahead score. It resounded like a tectonic shift across the college football landscape. The Wolverines never looked back, and now the rest of the college football world is looking on as the Wolverines are (finally) becoming the feared team that was prophesied when Harbaugh, the prodigal son, returned home.
After DPJ crossed the goal-line and did the Paul Bunyan Trophy pose in the end zone, the rain and foul weather weirdly seemed to subside. Almost as if the football gods were no longer angry with Michigan after seeing the go-for-the-throat Harbaugh return. And they were undoubtedly further satiated with the merciless offering Harbaugh gave them on the Wolverines' next offensive possession. Foregoing a conservative punt to go for it on 4th-and-2, which Patterson poetically converted to continue the drive that ultimately broke Sparty's spirit and lifted Michigan's.
This isn't simply a season now, it's a revival.
For the second week in a row the Wolverines played defense without a potential top 10 in next spring's NFL draft. Nevertheless, for the second week in a row the Wolverines erased one of the top quarterbacks in this league. Sparty was 0-for-12 on third down conversions, and finished with its third-lowest total offense output (94) in school-history. Karan Higdon rushed for over 100 yards for the sixth straight week, too, but this time against what was the top-ranked rush defense in the nation coming in.
Along the way, the Wolverines also exorcised several demons:
- Snapping a 12-year, 17-game losing streak to ranked teams on the road.
- Winning a rivalry game.
- Beating ranked teams in consecutive weeks for the first time since 2003.
Harbaugh restored the Michigan brand quicker than anybody expected, but it took him longer to establish the Michigan identity than most anticipated. Searching for a franchise quarterback. Trying to develop a beleaguered offensive line on the fly. That led to mounting criticism the past 12 months, some of it justified and some of it clickbait trolling from SEC homers masquerading as "analysis."
But Saturday confirmed our faith the brand and identity are both in place. Excellence now awaits.
My only criticism is the Wolverines didn't show more swagger and talk even more smack after punking Sparty, who again behaved like punks before and during the game. Brady Hoke's apology to these guys a few years was one of my most demoralizing moments as a Michigan fan. Like watching your pops walk away and say nothing while some punk in the mall insults your mama to his face. On Saturday, finally, after a decade of this Michigan punched back. And kept punching, even after the game was long over.
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