Jim Harbaugh walks along the football sideline with a clipboard in his hand and his head tilted down.
Anna Fuder/Daily. Buy this photo.

The thing about traps — they’re hard to see coming.

Sandwiched in the middle of a gritty, defensive slugfest against No. 12 Penn State, and seven days before a consequential rivalry matchup against No. 2 Ohio State in Ann Arbor, College Park may seem like an afterthought. And yet, there’s a game to be played on the Eastern Seaboard that the Wolverines cannot afford to overlook.

On the road, with distractions abound and against a Terrapin program with one win in its last five games, Michigan has the ever-feared “trap game” on its hands. Overlooking Maryland could be all too easy; nevertheless, The Michigan Daily has its eyes trained on what to watch for on Saturday.

Distractions, distractions

The narratives surrounding the Wolverines are seemingly endless. It’s what makes Saturday’s contest against the Terrapins ripe for a trap game.

Michigan undoubtedly has a million things on its mind. Coming off the high of its biggest win of the season, missing coach Jim Harbaugh for the remainder of the regular season and facing an upcoming battle against the Buckeyes, the Wolverines simply have enough distractions to derail even the strongest mindsets.

However, the program has continuously preached its so-called “one-track mindset” as it focuses on what’s inside Schembechler Hall, not outside or in the headlines. 

“The guys just have a one track mind,” acting coach Sherrone Moore said Wednesday.  “Everybody has a one track mind of ‘OK, what are we gonna do this week to beat Maryland?’ That’s it. So nobody’s worried about anything else.”

That “we” is an integral term, though. Less than 24 hours before his assigned court date with the Big Ten, Harbaugh and Michigan accepted the assigned suspension. Harbaugh will miss the remainder of the regular season and will not face future disciplinary actions as the NCAA continues the investigation.

With Harbaugh not on the sidelines, that “one track mind” will be tested as they seek to avoid any notion of a trap.

1000th win

Boasting an 11-0 start, Michigan stands on the doorstep of history. 

Standing at 999 wins across over more than a century of college football history, the Wolverines are already the winningest program of all-time. Now though, they have a chance to achieve something not done by any other program  — at any level.

“The Green Bay Packers — most wins in NFL history, 793. The most wins in high school football Valdosta, Georgia, 951 and Michigan Wolverines, 999; no one has one more,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “… I want to thank especially everyone who is put on the winged helmet all those that have contributed and those that have supported their efforts.”

With a win on Saturday, Michigan has the opportunity to turn that 999 into a 1000. As Harbaugh acknowledged earlier in the season, the Roman numeral ‘M’ designates 1000. Whether ironic, or poetic, the Wolverines have a chance to reach ‘M’ for the first time in college football history. 

All the while, since Harbaugh cannot attend on the sidelines Saturday, it will be Moore, not his senior, who will log the win on his record. Although Moore emphasized on Wednesday that the win will be Harbaugh’s in the hearts and minds of the Michigan faithful, it won’t be that way in the final rulebooks.

Yet, questions swirling surrounding disciplinary action from the NCAA leads to one final wrinkle. If the Wolverines reach the coveted 1,000 mark, yet see wins rescinded due to current investigations, what happens next? It’s hard to know for sure, but they could potentially be the first team to reach 1000 wins — twice — should such a peculiar situation arise.

A return to form

Against the Nittany Lions, Michigan made waves and headlines for its daring 32-straight run plays en route to a big roadvictory. The Wolverines surrendered just 15 points to a Penn State offense that had dropped 51 on Maryland only a week before. 

Although the Terrapins snapped a four-game losing skid last week in a 13-10 win over Nebraska — whom Michigan beat 45-7 in Lincoln earlier this season — offense was hard to come by. However, while the Wolverines made a choice to run the ball, Maryland’s offense struggled in all phases of the game. Thus, look for a return to form for the Michigan offense, as a weaker defensive matchup allows McCarthy and Moore to operate a fuller offense. 

There were reasons to make adjustments. Earlier in the Wolverines’ matchup against Penn State, defensive end Chop Robinson was a one-man wrecking crew, stifling any Michigan passing attack. Yet, in an explanation for why the Wolverines neglected to pass, graduate receiver Cornleius Johnson remained confident in the offense.

“As the game goes on, you just figure out the best probability to win the game and then you know if that’s working, we just stick with it.” Johnson said Monday. 

Even if Maryland poses a trap opportunity for Michigan, look for the Wolverines to initially attempt a more balanced attack to open up the contest, before they finally hit their groove.

Michigan has much to look forward to Saturday, but as much as it emphasizes that now is the time to put on the blinders, it might just let its eyes stray too far from the prize.

Because that’s the thing about trap games — they’re hard to see coming.