'We want to finish it': Michigan tunes up for Ohio State by routing Maryland
College Park, Md. — Eleven games down, and now it’s time for The Game.
Michigan dispatched of overmatched Maryland, 59-18, Saturday at Maryland Stadium, several hours after Ohio State defeated Michigan State. Now the rivals will meet next week at Michigan Stadium. Both teams have 10-1 records and a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game and potentially a spot in the College Football Playoff will be on the line.
Ohio State has been Big Ten champion the last four years. Michigan has not won a Big Ten title since 2004.
The Buckeyes certainly will be a challenge for the Wolverines, who face an Ohio State team loaded on offense with an arsenal at receiver from which quarterback C.J. Stroud can choose. The teams did not play last year after Michigan canceled the game because of a COVID-19 outbreak, but the Buckeyes have dominated the series the last two decades, winning the last eight straight and 17 of the last 19.
“It means everything that was planned, built for, all the energy that was put in since way back in early 2021, January, February, all the things the guys have done, the coaches have done. It’s put us in this position that’s the position we wanted to be in,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said.
“And we want to finish it. We want to win the marbles. We’re in the position we want to be in. We’ve been preparing for this the entire year and now bring that preparation to life this week to play for it all.”
To reach this stage, the Wolverines had to overcome what many considered a potential “trap game” against Maryland. They shook off a sluggish start with two three-and-outs in their first three series. Michigan got its first touchdown on a pass from Cade McNamara to Luke Schoonmaker on its second possession. And while the Terps tried to stay in the game, the Wolverines flexed their muscles in every facet.
McNamara, the Wolverines steely starting quarterback, was 21-of-28 for 259 yards and two touchdowns. Backup J.J. McCarthy threw for one score. Dan Villari and Alan Bowman also took snaps at quarterback. There was none of the typical postgame chatter about enjoying the win for 24 hours before moving on to the next game. McNamara was blunt when asked when his focus turns to the Buckeyes.
“Once I got taken out,” he said, firmly.
Michigan didn’t only score on offense. D.J. Turner returned an interception 42 yards for a touchdown, and special teams delivered on some trickery when Michael Barrett, a former high school quarterback, fielded the kickoff, took a few steps then threw to A.J. Henning to his right. Henning sprinted along the Michigan sideline for an 81-yard score. Not be left out, as he was at Penn State last week, Jake Moody made a 39-yard field goal and is now 22-of-24 this season. Michigan had a punt block by Matt Torey that the Wolverines were able to convert into a touchdown.
This is the first time since facing Northwestern on Oct. 10, 2015 that the Wolverines have scored in all three phases.
There was plenty of scoring, but it’s not difficult to determine where to start. Freshman running back Donovan Edwards had a breakout performance with 10 catches for 170 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown reception from McNamara. Edwards, who returned last week at Penn State after missing two games with an undisclosed injury, also had three carries for 8 yards.
“He’s destined for great things,” Harbaugh said of the talented freshman who led West Bloomfield High to a state championship earlier this year.
Running back Blake Corum was in uniform but did not play for what amounts to the third straight game. Corum suffered a right leg injury late in the first quarter against Indiana. That meant more Hassan Haskins. Haskins, the team’s leading rusher who passed the 1,000-yard mark on Saturday, has carried the rushing workload in Corum’s absence. He had 78 yards on 20 carries and scored twice against Maryland, bringing his touchdown total to 13 this season.
Edwards wasn’t the only freshman who scored touchdowns at Maryland. McCarthy connected on a 13-yard scoring pass with Mike Sainristil, who made a diving one-handed reception. McCarthy also ran for a 5-yard score in the fourth quarter.
The knock much of this season has been Michigan’s propensity to turn red-zone trips into field goals. Against the Terps, they were 6-of-6 on scoring attempts in the red zone with five touchdowns.
Maryland’s talented quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa entered the game having thrown for 1,140 yards in the last three games. He was held to 178 by Michigan, completing 19-of-33 and had one touchdown and one interception. He took two sacks, by Vincent Gray and T.J. Guy.
“We couldn’t get him on the ground, and we were doing everything we could to do that,” Harbaugh said. “We were approaching him like he was a running back, we were leveraging him like he was a running back. He was still making plays. He’s a real player.”
Since Big Ten Media Days before the start of the season, Harbaugh, who is 0-5 against Ohio State, broke from his usual form and spoke openly about wanting to beat the Buckeyes.
“I'm as enthusiastic and excited as I ever am, always am, even more to have at it, to win the championship, to beat Ohio, our rivals Michigan State, everybody,” Harbaugh said in July. “That's what we want to do. And we're going to do it or die trying.”
Michigan’s only loss this season came at Michigan State last month. But beating Ohio State has been a rarity for the Wolverines the last two decades and something Harbaugh has focused the team on achieving this season. Players have spoken openly about Ohio State, also a change from previous years under Harbaugh. They have shared there are signs in the building regarding OSU and a 9-on-7 “Beat Ohio” drill they do at least once a week.
For the Wolverines to reach their goals of a Big Ten title, it is always assumed Ohio State will be the roadblock. That’s the case again this season. In an informal media poll before the season, the Wolverines were picked to finish fourth in the division. They have surpassed that bar and now face their biggest moment of the season.
Harbaugh, who signed a contract extension before the season that slashed his salary in half and then reinvented his staff by going younger, has repeatedly commented on how much he has enjoyed this team. He thrives on the fun it has had and the joy with which it has played this season.
But now, it is all about Michigan and Ohio State. It’s all about The Game.
“Didn’t see the (OSU-MSU) game but saw the score,” Harbaugh said. “All our preparation has been happening. It’s a big challenge. Excited to get after it and bring it to life.”