Players starting to get "2016 vibe" with recent run of dominance

Sunday, September 23, 2018 - 4:46pm

Fifth-year senior defensive end Chase Winovich says this year's team is starting to feel like the 2016 squad.

Fifth-year senior defensive end Chase Winovich says this year's team is starting to feel like the 2016 squad. Buy this photo
Ryan McLoughlin/Daily

After three blowout wins, the Michigan football team is riding high. The Wolverines have won their last three games — against Western Michigan, SMU and Nebraska — by a combined 127 points. It’s the first time Michigan has outscored its opponents by 120-plus points in a three week span since the first three games of 2016.

The Wolverines have scored 150 points, their highest three-game point total since the middle of 2016 — a stretch against Rutgers, Illinois and Michigan State.

Junior quarterback Shea Patterson has thrown for seven touchdown passes the last three weeks, the highest three-game total from a Michigan quarterback since Wilton Speight in the first three weeks of 2016.

Noticing a trend?

“This is the most 2016 vibe I’d say we have,” said fifth-year senior defensive end Chase Winovich. “Just going to work and maturity-wise, everybody’s accountable for their position, you have ballers on every level. And it’s a great feeling.”

Most remember that 2016 season for the heartbreak at the end, not the utter dominance that led up to it. The Wolverines ascended to No. 2 in the polls, trampling opponents with a suffocating defense and a commanding running game. It was Jim Harbaugh’s second year, and it appeared all of his promises were on the verge of fruition.

You know how it ended — a troubling night in Iowa City raised doubt about a magical run, then a loss at Ohio State that will live in infamy. 

That was the closest Michigan has come to a Big Ten title and beyond since the mid-2000s; a talented team top-to-bottom. One that was generally mistake-free and efficient, took care of inferior foes, competed with top-notch opponents.

Last year, Michigan’s largest margin of victory was 25 points. The Wolverines didn’t score more than 36 points in a single game, nor did they allow fewer than 10. Above that, though less tangible, few games felt comfortable.

Though against clearly inferior foes, Michigan is back to that 2016 feeling.

Harbaugh, for what it’s worth, has been especially complimentary on the way his team practices and prepares.

“What really stands out is, our team is working hard and it’s paying off for them,” Harbaugh said after Saturday’s 56-10 win over Nebraska. “It’s showing they like to practice, and then they’re improving. It’s an improving, ascending team. And it’s paying off.

“They don’t — they actually get it, ramp it up every day. They don’t need — they don’t need motivational swings or talks or any, some of the things that some teams need. They just go to work, and looks like they enjoy it, that part of it.”

The parallels are far from perfect, though. For one — an especially notable one — Michigan has already lost a game, against the only nationally competitive team it has played. That game revealed potentially damming flaws. 

With this recent string of dominant performances over inferior foes, sanity and confidence have been restored to a fanbase that desperately needed both. Whether it continues through the heart of Big Ten play, of course, remains to be seen.

But it’s notable players would independently affirm those parallels. It’s a cultural comparison as much as any statistical, on-the-field similarity. If players feel it, maybe that’s all that matters. 

“There's a big maturity jump happening, people are starting to feel it. We want to be the type of intimidating team we were in '16. When we rolled down the tunnel, people feared us,” junior tackle Ben Bredeson said. We think we're getting back to that.”