by Tom Van HaarenESPN staff writer4 minutes of reading
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – When Michigan plays Ohio State on Saturday, both teams will be playing for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff.
But the Wolverines will do so without head coach Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines.
For the sixth game this season, Harbaugh will serve a suspension that will prevent him from coaching the third-ranked Wolverines. However, it is the biggest game of the season with the highest stakes as undefeated Michigan hosts second-ranked Ohio State.
Harbaugh’s absence hasn’t affected the confidence of Michigan’s players and coaches, however.
“Many of us would run through a wall for [Harbaugh]so it was definitely tough and coming into the game without him, it’s kind of like adding fuel to the fire,” Wolverines running back Blake Corum said.
“We’re going to play — not that we weren’t going to play hard at all, but we could play a little bit harder for him and make sure that at the end of the game we give him the ball to play. And you give someone a game ball, you say you’re going to give someone a game ball, you have to win; so we’ll make sure to do that for the coach.”
Harbaugh is serving what will be the third game of his three-game suspension from the Big Ten Conference amid allegations that former Connor Stallions employee ran a private intelligence scheme to steal play signals and calls.
Harbaugh also missed the first three games of the season due to a self-imposed suspension stemming from an unrelated NCAA investigation that has not yet concluded.
Instead of looking at Harbaugh’s absence as a negative, the Wolverines are using it as a chip on their shoulder and adopting a Michigan-versus-everyone mentality.
Corum wore those words on a sweatshirt during his press conference Monday and said Michigan was motivated by what happened this season off the field. Wolverines quarterback JJ McCarthy echoed that sentiment and said it brought the team together as a whole.
While it’s a historic rivalry that means so much this season to both schools, McCarthy believes the Wolverines have been through enough without Harbaugh to be able to withstand any additional pressure or unique circumstances that could arise against Ohio State .
“Just the whole process and the whole day where he was just gone,” McCarthy said. “It was different at first. And right now with that experience and knowing how it works and how the coaches react to certain things and how they coach the game, this Saturday is going to be great for us because it’s one of the bigger games.”
Harbaugh called his team battle-tested and talked about empowering his coaches to handle this situation without him. He compared the outside noise to a high-pitched siren that he was able to learn to tolerate.
“I’m going back to the Ted Lasso show,” Harbaugh said. “‘I believe.’ What comes out of that is believing, and I’m just so proud, so proud of our team. Despite all the noise, our locker room is whole. And like Ted, for me, the locker room is a lot like my mom’s swimsuits – I like to I see them in one piece.”
Michigan offensive coordinator Sharon Moore, who will serve as head coach for the fourth time this season, acknowledged that this game means more, but he doesn’t expect to change the way players work or prepare during the week.
“We all know what it means, it’s the game,” Moore said. “This is the one you train and play for, work for all year. So we all know the stakes and it will give us a chance to repeat the Big Ten title. The words, the preparation, that will come a little bit more later in the week, we’re trying to keep it at a low simmer this week because it can get pretty high very quickly.
“The kids are as prepared mentally and physically as they’ll ever be to prepare for this week.”