On the first offensive play of Saturday’s game, Trace McSorley completed a 25-yard pass to Pat Freiermuth, and it looked like it hadn’t skipped a beat from last season’s blowout.
Two plays later, Rashan Gary forced McSorley to step up in the pocket right into the lunging arms of defensive end Chase Winovich — his third solo sack of the season. It wasn’t apparent at the time, but Freiermuth’s reception quickly became an exception for the Nittany Lions Saturday and not the rule.
“Awesome,” said coach Jim Harbaugh of Winovich’s sack. “Set the tone, he really did, right from the beginning. Got the sack right away and that became a theme in the game. Putting pressure on the quarterback and just not giving him a chance to breathe back there.
“That was set by Chase.”
And if you have been following Michigan football at all, who else could it have been?
Winovich has been the unfiltered voice of the team. That is nothing new for Winovich, though it’s the loudest it has been as the Wolverines currently hold a spot as the fourth team in the College Football Playoff.
His “Revenge Tour” has morphed into the mindset of the team. Every analogy he makes has become another rallying cry in that pursuit.
“It’s for everybody,” Winovich said of the Revenge Tour prior to Saturday’s game. “I think it’s just an attitude, it’s like if you’re going to beat us, you can come and try and pry it out of our hands. That grittiness, I felt like, was lacking last year.”
And the outcome of that grit was obvious: 186 total yards allowed, two interceptions (one for a touchdown), five total sacks and a resounding fumble recovery. Who got it? None other than Winovich, raising the football in the air like a trophy.
It was only a matter of time, according to Winovich.
“I sensed them wearing out from the first series,” Winovich said. “… The defense felt that confidence after the first series. That’s the conversation that we had, and the results showed.
“… It’s not their spirit being broken, it’s our spirit being unstoppable.”
Hardly anything out of Winovich’s on-field play or post-game comments is surprising. He has cited, on countless occasions, that this season is different. He has also mentioned time and again that his best games are yet to come.
But following an undefeated three-game stretch, Winovich still foresees that game in the future.
“No, I don’t think this is the game for me yet,” Winovich said. “For me, this game, it’s tough, because in order to have that game, you have to be in a position to take some risks on certain plays and certain things. For me, I just try to be as assignment-sound as possible and just do my job.”
Even if Winovich sees improvement for future games, his past performances have been nearly flawless. In Michigan’s past three games facing some of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks — Alex Hornibrook, Brian Lewerke and McSorley — it has surrendered a combined quarterback rating of 7.5, according to ESPN.
It is evidence of another Winovich-ism: collecting lunch money from the teams that bullied them last year, and collecting interest.
And then in the post-game press conference came one more new metaphor for those not on the revenge bandwagon.
“Heading into Columbus, we’re a battleship,” Winovich said. “Everybody is trying to hop in.”
With the Wolverines’ destiny in its own hands, the ship might need a greater capacity.