Bob Wojnowski and Chris Howard break down the history of the rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State. Later, Nick Hill and Matt Charboneau talk about the Spartans aiming for a 9-3 record. Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan’s record does not show it, but coach Jim Harbaugh said his team is improving.
The Wolverines are 8-3 overall, 5-3 in the Big Ten, and as they prepare to face No. 8 Ohio State on Saturday at Michigan Stadium, Harbaugh heaped praise on the team and its development.
This season Michigan lost 14-10 at home to Michigan State, got beaten badly at Penn State, 42-13, and is coming off a 24-10 loss to Wisconsin, in which starting quarterback Brandon Peters, who had Michigan in the game for three quarters, had to leave the game because of a concussion.
“It’s been a team that’s been progressing,” Harbaugh said Monday. “I really like our team. Love the way they work, love the way they compete, love the effort that they give, and I really love seeing the progress being made.
“I feel like our team’s improved each week and has already shown that they can play to the level with anybody in the country.”
It is uncertain whether Peters will be cleared to play Saturday, but he has given the offense a lift since he took over late in the first quarter of the Rutgers game on Oct. 28. There have been moments the offense has clicked, but there have been substantial issues. That can happen, obviously, when a team is on its third quarterback, but the consistent weakness has been the offensive line.
The pass protection has been woefully inadequate. The Wolverines ranked 102nd of 129 teams nationally in sacks allowed and 99th in tackles for loss allowed. They have seen two quarterbacks knocked out of games, including Wilton Speight fracturing three vertebrae at Purdue on Sept. 23. Wisconsin linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel was unchallenged as he charged toward Peters and drilled him to the ground as he released a throw on third down.
“We definitely got beat on some pick-stunts,” Harbaugh said. “Some we picked up, some we didn’t. We’ll address that and work on it and get better at it.”
The players have said all season said that small issues have been holding the team back.
“It’s most definitely little things, little mental mistakes,” running back Karan Higdon said. “One guy slips up and we’ve all been at fault for that and those are things we can’t happen. It’s little things. It happens all the time in college football in pro football. To be excellent, you have to work on little things.”
Higdon said the little things have amounted to greater frustration.
“Because you see the potential,” he said. “We know our potential, and we know where we can be and we’re continuously working through that.”
John O’Korn is preparing to start on Saturday, but there is a chance Peters could be ready. Harbaugh said he showed 50 percent improvement when he was tested by doctors on Monday. Still, there are several stages in the concussion protocol he must go through to be cleared for contact in practice and then the game.
With Peters, the offense seemed to be making strides.
“We’ve seen progress,” Harbaugh said. “In football, you’re looked at as only as good your last four quarters. We were capable of playing better, but the team has made progress and this is now onto the biggest game of the year, no doubt about it.
“I want the team to capture the same excitement, intensity and good play and winning football. That’s our desire and I know it will be a great environment for football. The Michigan crowd doesn’t take a backseat to any, and the atmosphere will be electric.”
Ohio State already has clinched a spot in the Big Ten championship game and is a considerable favorite heading into The Game. A win over the Buckeyes won’t make the low points of the season disappear, but it would be the kind of springboard the Wolverines want heading into the bowl game and next season.
“I believe we’re close, I really do right now believe we are close to greatness, to this being a great team,” Harbaugh said Monday night on his radio show. “Our opportunity to do that next is this big game. That’s what we want to see. We want to take control of that and make that happen.”