ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The snow that came on at the end, that fell as Ohio State fell to Michigan, was no playful flakes, no Hollywood prop. This, rather, was the kind that delivers an icy sting. They make bad weather days into miserable weather days and they tend to get produced around here like they are coming off some stamping plant assembly line.
Midwest weather. Big Ten weather. It’s why Woody Hayes used to equate playing in this rivalry to waging war in the North Atlantic. At some point it's just you and the other guy, toughest man wins. It sure as hell isn’t for everyone.
On Saturday in this big bowl of a stadium, in front of a six-figure crowd who saw their cautious hope slowly morph — one long touchdown drive at a time — into overdue delirium, the Michigan Wolverines beat up and bullied a faster, more skilled and more talented Buckeye team, 42-27.
They beat them in the trenches. They beat them in the backfield. They beat them via discipline. They beat them from the opening drive until the final fourth-quarter clincher. They beat them up and down the field with Hassan Haskins roaring for five touchdowns and Aidan Hutchinson delivering three sacks and the Wolverines scoring five consecutive times.
They beat them every which way. It wasn’t just the 297 yards on the ground; it was the 7.2 per carry. It wasn’t just that Michigan had touchdown drives of 63, 66, 81, 78, 82 and 75 yards; it was that they hit third down just seven combined times of those drives.
“It was domination,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “It was domination on the offensive line. No doubt about it.”
Harbaugh wasn’t bothering to contain his joy postgame. Not of any of it.
The victory? Of course. He was 0-5 as a coach against Ohio State and the Wolverines had lost 15 of the last 16 meetings. He needed this. The thrill of the long-suffering fans? "Celebrating long into the night,” he said, sampling an old Michigan radio call from the late Bob Ufer.
The fact that Michigan, at 11-1, was headed to the Big Ten title game and then, perhaps, its first-ever College Football Playoff? “What it feels like now,” he said, “it feels like a beginning.” All of this one season after a 2-4 campaign where he took a pay cut and reshuffled his coaching staff.
Mainly though, it was not just that Michigan did it but how Michigan did it, by being meaner and madder than its rivals. Harbaugh installed a sign in Schembechler Hall last January asking players “What Are YOU Doing To Beat Ohio State Today?" At every workout, the Buckeyes' run of dominance was brought up.
But by spring, Harbaugh thought he had the makings of a mauling team, the kind he built back at Stanford where they’d run it down people’s throats, pound them on the defensive side and use an efficient passing game (14-of-20, 190 yards on Saturday). And he thought it might be the antidote to the Buckeyes.
It was just about getting them to believe in it — so he kept mentioning all his seniors who didn’t turn pro or didn’t quit, or didn’t stop working.
“Committed guys,” he said. “Truly committed guys.”
The ones who still could muster up some Michigan pride and finally shut Ohio State up.
“These guys have been disrespecting us,” said Hutchinson, who will be a top-five NFL pick next year. “Stepping on our jersey. Talking about hanging 100 on us.”
The hundred line came courtesy of coach Ryan Day, who succeeded Urban Meyer in Columbus and took over a well-oiled machine. That's a fact that wasn’t lost on Harbaugh.
“There's definitely stuff that people said that spurred us on even more, sure,” Harbaugh said. “Sometimes people that are standing on third base and think they hit a triple, but they didn't."
Yes, Harbaugh was handing it out. As a player in this rivalry he once guaranteed victory (and delivered). Now, after immense amounts of criticism during his six years in Ann Arbor, he was having a moment.
He’s gotten the program back to winning — 60-23 — but he was hired at his alma mater to settle old family business. Even things with Ohio State. Beat Michigan State regularly. Win the Big Ten. Until Saturday, he hadn’t done any of it.
Maybe this is a blip. Maybe this is a breakthrough. For the moment at least, it was a referendum answered by Harbaugh.
“It’s just what you do,” he said. “Keep working, keep grinding, knowing it is going to pay off.”
This time, the skepticism was on Day and his program. They were undisciplined — six pre-snap penalties courtesy of a wild crowd and the fact Hutchinson and partner in violence, David Ojabo, were standing across the way. The fancy offense couldn’t spring clearly superior wideouts for any game-breaking scores. There were no adjustments to being road graded.
When it came to the heart and soul of Michigan-Ohio State, the Buckeyes just couldn’t, or wouldn’t, compete. They looked like a team that expected to win. They looked like a team that thought finesse would do it.
“Intensity,” said Michigan offensive lineman Andrew Stueber. “The ability to push people off the ball. Being nasty.”
This was an old-school team reasserting itself in ways that no one was quite sure was even possible. Even as the Vegas line dipped below a touchdown this week, so many around here couldn’t let themselves dare to believe this would be any different than years past.
This time Michigan was good when it was at home, though. This time it had Hutchinson and Co. This time it had the running back they call "H-Two" and his 169 slithering, shaking yards.
“They thought they saw a ghost,” Harbaugh said. “But they didn’t. It was No. 25, Hassan Haskins.”
This time they had this gloriously miserable weather, this slapping snow that slicked the field and coated the ball and made just standing there a test of wills in its own way. It was the kind of day when it was easy to quit. At least one team wouldn't.
“You just don’t fold or quit at the first sign of adversity,” Harbaugh said.
He never has. Give him that. He just plowed ahead and kept saying days like these were coming even when there was no earthly evidence they would.
By the end, both coach and players were mobbed by tens of thousands of fans who stormed the field here ... perhaps for the first time in this old stadium. It’s been that long waiting for something to celebrate. There is more to do, of course. There is more to accomplish. It’s all possible now.
But on this afternoon out of the distant past and full of the most improbable of dreams, on a day they finally got by their unmovable obstacle, here inside a college football snow globe, they would bounce and sing and celebrate as the Buckeyes shuffled off into winter, beaten.
At last. At long, long last here in Ann Arbor.