MINNEAPOLIS — Break out the raccoon coat. Crank up the needle on the old phonograph, and pick out something a marching band can play. The salmon are swimming upstream, the swallows are returning to Capistrano. Once again, Michigan will play Ohio State to determine where they will wake up New Year’s morning, a familiar finale to a season none thought they would have.
They made sure it will be a big game Saturday with a 48-7 drubbing of Minnesota, a game that could only be gazed at with eyes of wonder. As in “I wonder who the fool was who said this would be close?”
Yes, the battle of the U of M’s was billed as an actual contest, if you can believe that this morning, with sophomore quarterback Rickey Foggie leading his Gophers’ offense, and the screams of 64,129 Gophers fans making signal-calling impossible inside the cavernous Metrodome.
So they said.
Biff. Bam. Boom. New script.
This one was merciless. A slaughter. Gopher go home. By game’s end Foggie’s passing numbers were so bad he wouldn’t show them to his freshman math teacher. And the Michigan offense put on an aerial show.
“Awesome,” said a Cotton Bowl representative, trying not to lick his lips. So brutal were the Wolverines, under the dome that the Minnesota fans wished they were outside. And it was snowing out there. Forget the defense, this time
We could talk U-M defense — it was magnificent, as usual. Forced turnovers, as usual. Surrendered yardage like a hound surrenders raw meat from its teeth. As usual.
But let’s be adventurous. Let’s talk quarterback. Let’s talk excellence. Let’s talk Jim Harbaugh.
Excellence because he played impressive football Saturday, and in games he’s started and finished, the Wolverines are 11-2-1 in two years.
Adventurous because Bo Schembechler doesn’t want to hear any more suggestions about Harbaugh’s throwing being tied to the team’s success. His eyes squint and his face bunches up and his voice rises when the question does.
“Don’t ask me about opening up our offense,” he said Saturday. “What do you want us to do, throw on every down?
“What Jim did out there today (13-for-18, 243 yards, 3 touchdowns) will have absolutely no effect on what we do next week. We are out to win a football game. Not to please you (reporters) by throwing the forward pass.”
But the facts, like alcohol on a wound, can sometimes sting, and the facts suggest that a varied offense is Michigan’s best insurance against defeat. Their defense is yet to play at any level lower than awesome. Only when the offense sputtered — relying perhaps too much on the run — did the scoreboard hurt: a 12-10 loss to Iowa and a 3-3 tie with Illinois.
“It’s been our offense that has let us down,” Harbaugh said. “That’s why we needed a game like today.”
In which Harbaugh sparkled. It was fun to watch. Too often, Harbaugh has been like a thick wad of bills in Schembechler’s pocket. In the most dangerous neighborhoods — a.k.a. the toughest opponents — Bo keeps it hidden, flashing it only when necessary. But when a sense of security moves him, he takes that wad out and you see just how loaded he really is.
Harbaugh has cool, moxie, and an arm that, if not overpowering, is extremely accurate. Saturday he even gave a little Tarkenton impression — a third-quarter scramble, during which he could have limed the field, that resulted in a 37-yard completion to Paul Jokisch.
Michigan scored on all but one of their possessions with Harbaugh in, and that one was a missed field goal attempt. I’d call that effective. Wouldn’t you? But who’ll show up Saturday?
So the question you can ponder with your coffee this morning is which offense will play Ohio State Saturday — the footloose version highlighted by Harbaugh’s passing, or the handoff, take-no-chances version we’ve seen at other times.
Don’t look at me. I have no idea.
As fullback Bob Perryman put it: “It’s all up to Bo. He calls a good game and we win. He called a good game today. I just hope we throw on first down.”
But ok. There are six more days to speculate. For one blissful moment, U-M fans should sit back and savor what Schembechler and his crew have achieved. It’s far too easy to forget that the pre-season pollsters regarded the Wolverines like rotten meat — avoiding them altogether. Yet look at them now.
Wow. But then things rarely turn out like you expect. Just ask the Minnesota fans, who were leaving by the third quarter Saturday. A gopher knows a hole when he sees one. A Wolverine can smell his next meal.
All eyes on Saturday now. It’s that time again.