Sitting in the visiting media room at Beaver Stadium following the Michigan football team’s comeback win, Jim Harbaugh was asked about the Wolverines’ performance in familiar territory.
Saturday had the makings of a textbook example of a game Michigan would lose in years past. Hell, even in weeks past. The sixth-ranked Wolverines blew an eight-point lead over Penn State midway through the fourth quarter and found themselves trailing less than a minute later. But instead of wilting the way Michigan did under similar duress in East Lansing two weeks prior when the Wolverines blew a 16-point second-half lead, they responded with a game-winning knockout blow on the next drive.
In doing so, they showed just how far they’ve come. More importantly, Saturday’s outcome revealed something important about Michigan’s makeup.
“This is a great win,” Harbaugh said on Saturday. “No doubt this team is full of all the championship qualities in guys, in football players. They were born to do this. They approach it like, ‘We’re born for these kinds of days. Let’s go have at it.’ ”
Asked about his team’s championship qualities again on Monday afternoon, Harbaugh doubled down:
“I do believe they have those traits,” Harbaugh said. “I think they’re developing them. I know when I’m there on the sidelines, just the togetherness that our football team has. They’re for each other, and I’m sure it probably comes through on the TV, at least (for) people that watch the game. They saw the same thing coming through the TV: the excitement our team has and the togetherness.”
That wasn’t the case against Michigan State, but Michigan used its loss to the Spartans as a learning experience. The Wolverines met for a players-only meeting 48 hours after returning from East Lansing, determined to prevent similar downfalls in the future.
Michigan’s 12-player leadership council, which is responsible for communication between the team and coaches, called the meeting. All season long, it has allowed certain players to emerge as prominent voices within Schembechler Hall.
“We have a lot of great leaders,” senior linebacker Michael Barrett said Monday. “We have a lot of guys trying to win. We have a lot of guys trying to win. We have a lot of guys that like to play together, and just like (Harbaugh) said, that togetherness and having all those guys coming together, buying in and locking into it, that’s a championship team to me.”
Since Harbaugh’s winter staff overhaul, the program has become increasingly player-driven by design. According to Barrett, players made a pact during January workouts to hold each other accountable this season. Last year’s frustrating 2-4 campaign taught players there’s a big difference between saying they’re buying in and actually buying in.
“You can feel it, just with all the new changes,” Barrett said. “Everybody’s coming together. I feel like a lot of guys feel like it’s a brotherhood. It’s a little different than it has been before.”
Regardless of age or position, the Wolverines agreed to take a new approach this season. So far, the results are showing. Michigan could control its own destiny atop the Big Ten standings by Thanksgiving, though a looming showdown against No. 3 Ohio State still stands between the Wolverines and Harbaugh’s first trip to the conference title game in Indianapolis — let alone a College Football Playoff berth.
But with both still on the table, Michigan plans to ride its self-proclaimed “championship qualities” as far as it will take them.
“(We have) our ability to handle adversity, and we definitely have enough talent,” junior quarterback Cade McNamara said. “I think overall, our mentality as a team has shifted. This team is ready to finish this season, and by the end of it, we should be competing for a championship if we do what we’re supposed to do.”