Tom VanHaarenESPN Staff Writer4 Minute Read
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When Michigan plays Ohio State on Saturday, both teams will be playing for a spot in the Big Ten championship game and a potential berth in the College Football Playoff.
But the Wolverines will be doing it without head coach Jim Harbaugh on the sideline.
For the sixth game this season, Harbaugh will be serving a suspension that will prevent him from coaching the third-ranked Wolverines. This, however, is the biggest game of the season with the most at stake, as undefeated Michigan hosts second-ranked Ohio State.
Harbaugh’s absence hasn’t impacted the confidence from Michigan’s players and coaches, though.
“A lot of us would run through a wall for [Harbaugh], so it’s definitely been tough, and going into the game without him, this is kind of just like adding fuel to the fire,” Wolverines running back Blake Corum said Monday.
“We’re going to play — not that we weren’t going to play hard at all, but might play a little harder for him and make sure at the end of the game, we give a game ball to him. And you give a game ball to someone, you say you’re going to give a game ball to someone, you must win; so we’ll make sure we do that for Coach.”
Harbaugh is serving what will be the third game in his three-game suspension from the Big Ten Conference amid allegations that former staffer Connor Stalions manned an in-person scouting scheme to steal play signals and calls.
Harbaugh also missed the first three games of the season from a self-imposed suspension stemming from an unrelated NCAA investigation that has yet to finish.
Rather than viewing Harbaugh’s absence as a negative, the Wolverines are using it as a chip on their shoulder and embracing a “Michigan vs. Everybody” mentality.
Corum wore those words on a sweatshirt during his Monday news conference and said Michigan has been motivated by what has gone on this season off the field. Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy echoed that sentiment and said it has brought the team closer as a unit.
Despite this being a historic rivalry that means so much this season to both schools, McCarthy believes the Wolverines have gone through enough without Harbaugh to be able to withstand any extra pressure or unique circumstances that might arise against Ohio State.
“Just the whole process and throughout the day of just not having him there,” McCarthy said. “It was different at first. And just now with that experience and knowing how it works and how the coaches react to certain things and how they go about coaching the game, it’s going to be tremendous for us this Saturday, because it’s one of the bigger games.”
Harbaugh called his team battle-tested and spoke about empowering his coaches to handle this situation without him. He compared the outside noise to a high-pitched siren that he has been able to learn how to tolerate.
“I go back to the ‘Ted Lasso’ show,” Harbaugh said. “‘Believe.’ What comes out of that is believe, and I’m just so proud, so proud of our team. Despite that noise, our locker room is in one piece. And like Ted, for me, a locker room is a lot like my mom’s bathing suits — I like to see them in one piece.”
Michigan offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore, who will act as the head coach for the fourth time this season, acknowledged that this game means more, but he doesn’t anticipate it changing how the players work or prepare during the week.
“We all know what it means, it’s ‘The Game,'” Moore said. “It’s the one you practice and play for, you work for all year. So we all know the stakes, and that’ll give us a chance to go repeat on the Big Ten title. The words, the prep, that’ll come out a little bit more later on down the week, we try to keep it on a low boil this week, because it can get pretty high really fast.
“The kids are as prepared mentally and physically as they’ll ever be to get ready for this week.”