INDIANAPOLIS — It was crystal clear that the Wolverines were on a mission when they entered Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday night.
After all, the No. 2 Wolverines were one victory away from earning back-to-back Big Ten Titles and a second-straight berth in the College Football Playoffs. Michigan would not be denied either, and outlasted Purdue 43-22 in front of 67,107 fans, which was the second-largest crowd ever for a Big Ten Championship Game.
It didn’t start out easy for Jim Harbaugh’s squad though. The Wolverines only led the Boilermakers by a point at halftime. However, Michigan outscored Purdue 29-9 in the second half to pull away and claimed its’ jaw-dropping, 44th Big Ten Title. Lucas Oil felt like a home game for the Wolverines, considering the venue was filled mostly with their fans. Which is why Harbaugh is forever grateful of the support for the program.
“First, I would like to thank the parents of the Michigan Wolverine players for raising such tremendous young men,” Harbaugh said. “They just help us win in every way on the field, off the field, through perseverance, character, and mostly love.”
And the only way Harbaugh knows how to show his appreciation is taking care of business on the field. Although the Boilermakers finished the game with more yards, first downs and plays than the Wolverines, they still couldn’t overcome two costly interceptions thrown by quarterback Aidan O’Connell. And Michigan is one of the best in the country at taking advantage of turnovers.
Quarterback J.J. McCarthy had himself a solid outing. He completed 11 of his 17 passes for 161 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. As usual though, the Wolverines did most of their damage on the ground, even without Blake Corum in the lineup. Michigan racked up 223 rushing yards, including 185 by Donovan Edwards. It’s mind-boggling that the sophomore only had six yards on the ground after the first quarter. And for Edward’s heroics he was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Harbaugh wasn’t surprised by the success of Edwards. In fact he expected the running back to dominate on the gridiron.
“I mean, this guy has 401 yards in the last two games,” he said. “You want to talk about big games, this guy comes alive in the big games, and Blake Corum has been a warrior too that same way, but, I mean, those are two supreme backs, Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards.”
Wideout Ronnie Bell finished with a team-high, five catches for 67 yards and a score. McCarthy also connected with tight ends Luke Schoonmaker and Colston Loveland for a touchdown. Michigan averaged seven yards per play, while Purdue (8-5) averaged 5.4. And it didn’t even matter that the Boilermakers had the advantage in time of possession.
On defense the Wolverines started to impose their will in the second half, like they did to most teams this season. Defensive back Rod Woodson generated 14 total tackles, including nine solo. Linebacker Junior Colson led the team with 15 total stops, and Michael Barrett added 10 tackles, including a sack. Not to mention edge rusher Jaylen Harrell put O’Connell to the turf twice.
Harbaugh was impressed with the intensity the defense provided, and how the unit dominated in the trenches. Michigan’s effective rushing attack complimented the defense and helped the team close out the game, which Harbaugh thought the offense executed to perfection. He couldn’t leave out the big boys up front for paving the way in the grand scheme of it all.
“It’s a really good game plan and it’s a really good offensive line” the 58-year old coach said.
Michigan has now won 17-straight games against Big Ten opponents. The Wolverines pretty much has the No. 2 spot on lock when the Playoff Committee releases their final rankings Sunday afternoon. And that should be a higher seeding for Wolverines than last year, which means a more favorable matchup in the semifinal.
Regardless, The Wolverines are 13-0 and the 2023 Big Ten Champs. No doubt Michigan is riding a big wave of momentum into postseason glory. Harbaugh is going to celebrate with his team and enjoy the moment, but understands there’s still unfinished business. And at the end of the day, he’s very proud of his players for navigating through their unbelievable journey.
“I’ve talked about it being a happy mission, not a grim mission.”