With Saturday’s dramatic win over Penn State in the rearview mirror, Michigan football players and coaches returned to Schembechler Hall to prepare for the ultimate trap game.
At 9-1 and ranked No. 7 in the latest USA Today coaches poll, the only thing separating U-M from a date with Ohio State — a showdown that could decide, among other things, which Big Ten school has the best chance of reaching the College Football Playoff — is a trip to Maryland, an opponent that has lost five of its last six games.
“That’s a huge challenge for us this week is we have to be able to remain focused on Maryland,” quarterback Cade McNamara said. “We can’t play in any championship without beating Maryland first, so that has to be our mindset going into this week. We’re obviously aware that a big game is ahead, but we have to be more focused on what’s ahead of us right now.”
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This year’s group of Wolverines has faced trap games before. They were asked about looking ahead to a road game with Wisconsin even though Rutgers was next on the schedule. They were questioned about the rivalry game with Michigan State even as Northwestern prepared for a trip to Ann Arbor. Both times, coach Jim Harbaugh’s club rose to the occasion and scraped out wins in a reflection of unwavering concentration.
The same will be expected against the Terrapins, who enter this week’s game as 15-point underdogs after losing to the Spartans in East Lansing. Harbaugh reiterated the idea of approaching the final month of the season with a playoff mindset, something he first mentioned ahead of the rivalry game with Michigan State. But as of Saturday afternoon, after the Wolverines defeated the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley, he began tossing around the C-word — championship — in reference to his team’s character.
“I do believe they have those traits,” Harbaugh said. “I think they’re developing them. I know it, 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 people that watched the game said that they saw the same thing coming through the TV. The excitement that our team has and the togetherness.”
What exactly those championship qualities are was a question posed to McNamara, who threw for 217 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday. Speaking within a few minutes of his coach, McNamara mentioned Michigan’s ability to handle adversity in games like Nebraska and Penn State, both of whom took the lead in the fourth quarter but failed to finish the Wolverines. He believes this year’s group possesses the right blend of physical toughness and mental fortitude to reach their goal of capturing a Big Ten title.
“This team is ready to finish this season,” McNamara said, “and I think by the end of it we should be competing for a championship if we do what we’re supposed to do.”
Corum’s status uncertain
Ever since running back Blake Corum dropped out of the win over Indiana with an ankle injury, news about his health has come at a premium.
In the aftermath of the game against the Hoosiers, Harbaugh told reporters he didn’t believe the injury was severe but admitted it wasn’t minor, either. Two days later, during his weekly appearance on the “Inside Michigan Football” radio show, Harbaugh lumped Corum into a group of three injured players he described as “real probable” for the trip to Penn State.
Two days after that, running backs coach Mike Hart said he hoped to see Corum and fellow running back Donovan Edwards on the field in Happy Valley while declining to answer additional questions about the injury situation. Edwards, who suffered an undisclosed injury against Northwestern, returned for the win over Penn State as Corum remained in Ann Arbor.
On Saturday, the ABC broadcast crew said Corum is likely to miss multiple games with the hope he may be healthy for the season finale against Ohio State. Then on Monday, during his weekly news conference, Harbaugh said there is no estimated return date.
“It’s when he returns,” Harbaugh said. “Timeline? I don’t have a timeline for you, if that’s what you’re asking. No, there’s no timeline.”
Hutchinson honored by Big Ten
Outside linebacker Aidan Hutchinson was named the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Week following his tremendous performance against Penn State.
Hutchinson racked up seven tackles, including 3½ tackles for loss, and set a new career high with three sacks in a single game. He now has 9½ sacks on the season.
This was Hutchinson’s first Defensive Player of the Week honor since Oct. 7, 2019.
Gattis nominated for national award
Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis is one of 59 finalists for the 2021 Broyles Award, which recognizes the top assistant coach in college football.
Other Big Ten nominees include Michigan State OC Jay Johnson, Minnesota DC Joe Rossi, Nebraska DC Erik Chinander, Ohio State OC Kevin Wilson, Penn State DC Brent Pry, Illinois DC Ryan Walters, Iowa DC Phil Parker and Wisconsin DC Jim Leonhard.
As the season continues, a 43-member selection committee that includes former head coaches, broadcasters and a group representing the Football Writers Association of America will select 15 semifinalists, five finalists and a winner.
Former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was the 2020 recipient.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Jim Harbaugh: Michigan football has 'championship' qualities