Harbaugh, Michigan demand attention out of CFB's crazy Week 4

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Michigan has come a long way already under Jim Harbaugh, as BYU learned the hard way. (AP/Tony Ding)

There were scores in Week 4 of the college season that grabbed everyone’s attention.

No. 3 TCU’s 55-52 classic at Texas Tech surely counts as one of them. No. 9 UCLA’s 56-30 stomping of 16th-ranked Arizona in Tucson — home for a weekend to ESPN’s “GameDay” production — will have the national experts buzzing with talk of a wild Bruins ride to January’s playoff

And how about No. 18 Utah going into Eugene and beating the Nike swooshes off the 13th-ranked Oregon Ducks by an unofficial count of a million to zilch? No one — don’t even try it, bub — saw that one coming. It would be no more surprising if Jay Cutler and the Bears went to Green Bay and won by the same score.

But then there was Michigan 31, No. 22 BYU 0.

A thriller? Hardly. Matter of fact, it was boring as all get-out, especially in light of BYU’s incredible opening stretch against Nebraska, Boise State and UCLA. The Cougars packed a season’s worth of drama into those three games.

And then Jim Harbaugh’s unranked squad took the field in Ann Arbor and made the Cougars seem utterly insignificant.

See, that ought to excite just about everybody.

“I can’t really gauge that so much,” Harbaugh said when asked about his team’s improvement since he came on board at his alma mater after the Wolverines’ disappointing 2014 season.

“But I’m getting the feeling that I’m starting to know this team, and what stands out most is they like to work.”

Harbaugh elaborated as only he could.

“They like to work all week. They like to work on Mondays. They compete on Monday, they compete on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Even Friday, the hay’s not in the bar. It’s a good, fun team to coach.”

It seems Harbaugh knows all the days of the week, and do you know what else? It seems the Wolverines have covered a great deal of ground on the long road back from the darkness of the Rich Rodriguez era and the softness that took hold of the program under Rodriguez’s successor and Harbaugh’s predecessor, Brady Hoke.

That’s right, softness. Michigan — once a long-standing standard-bearer for physical play and overall toughness — became as soft as pudding in recent seasons, and that’s why Harbaugh was so needed there.

BYU gained 105 total yards against Harbaugh’s defense. The Wolverines rushed for 254 yards — the old-fashioned way, with real, live running backs. These are the sort of statistics that are like striking gold to fans of Big Blue.

“It feels good to finally beat a ranked team,” said De’Veon Smith, who carried 16 times for 125 yards and scored on a physical 60-yard play that called to mind rugged Michigan backs of the past.

“We have to keep the momentum going and keep making statements.”

Speaking of statements, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall made a heck of a big one about the Wolverines.

“That was the best team we played to this point,” he said, “not only physically, but execution-wise.”

An opposing coach couldn’t pay Harbaugh a bigger compliment if he tried.

You remember Michigan’s lone defeat this season, don’t you? It came in the opener, by a score of 24-17 at Utah. We all know what the Utes are doing lately. In hindsight, Harbaugh’s boys didn’t do so badly.

And now? Now the Wolverines are kind of on a roll. You’d better believe it’s a big deal.


Week: No. 3 TCU 55, Texas Tech 52. A year ago in Fort Worth, this matchup produced an avert-your-eyes final score of 82-27 in favor of the Horned Frogs. Um, the Red Raiders — sadly for them, now 3-1 — have gotten a tiny bit better. No doubt, the struggle of TCU (4-0) to hang in there amid seemingly endless injuries on defense also was a factor.

The game was close and tense throughout, but the ending was just plain ridiculous theater. On fourth-and-goal from the 4, TCU’s Trevone Boykin threw high to favorite receiver Josh Doctson; the ball glanced off Doctson’s outstretched fingers and into the arms of teammate Aaron Green, who secured the victory while falling out of bounds.

Weak: Rutgers 27, Kansas 14. It was a clash of the Big Ten program with an ever darker cloud over its head than Illinois against the absolute worst Power 5 team imaginable. And … we won’t bore you with the details.

Week: No. 14 Texas A&M 28, Arkansas 21 (OT). It was another crushing loss for Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks (1-3), but they gave a good showing. More important, it kept the revival alive for the 4-0 Aggies, who trailed by eight before scoring a late touchdown and adding a two-point conversion to force overtime on the road. It finally feels like Kevin Sumlin has fully moved on post-Johnny Manziel.


Josh Doctson, WR, TCU: Nothing much to see here from Doctson —merely 18 catches for 267 yards and three touchdowns in a crazy 55-52 victory at Texas Tech. Did we mention those were all career highs for the senior? You probably figured that already.

Ben Grogan, K, Oklahoma State: Poor, poor Texas. It almost seems unfair for the rest of the world to keep treating the Longhorns so unkindly, but what was Grogan supposed to do? He made a 41-yard game-tying field goal with a little over a minute to play, then nailed a 40-yard game-winner at the end as the No. 24 Cowboys prevailed in Austin.

Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy: Chalk up three more rushing touchdowns for Reynolds in a 28-18 victory at UConn, tying him for second all-time — still four behind former Wisconsin star Montee Ball — in the FBS ranks. Reynolds rushed for 142 yards in all as the Midshipmen moved to 3-0 for the first time since 2006.


Up: Leonard Fournette. The LSU running back — a week after dropping the jaws of Heisman Trophy voters around the country — blew up for 244 yards and a pair of touchdowns in an early game at Syracuse. Right now, this is your leader in that race by a mile.

Down: Charlie Strong. Some of us still think the world of Texas’ struggling coach — good man, principled leader, proven winner — but he’s 7-10 in one of the real pressure-cooker jobs in America. There’s no letup in the schedule, with a visit to TCU next.

Down and out: No. 20 Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets were so good by the end of last season, it’s almost shocking that they were easily handled by Notre Dame and Duke the last two weeks. Oh, well. Sometimes Paul Johnson’s triple-option is a big story; other times it really isn’t.


• Ohio State’s quarterback situation continues to be a puzzler. Cardale Jones wasn’t sharp at all in the No. 1 Buckeyes’ easy victory over Western Michigan. J.T. Barrett came in late and threw a pick. It’s not a good situation right now, although almost any other coach would gladly swap problems with Urban Meyer.

• You think Chip Kelly is having a hard time in Philadelphia? Well, he is. Goodness gracious, he is. But that was some kind of strange night in Eugene, Ore., with the Ducks meeting the business end of the 18th-ranked Utah Express.

• No. 25 Missouri has come back down to earth, playing rather poorly thus far and falling to 3-1 with a 21-13 loss at Kentucky. Looks like this isn’t the Tigers’ year in the SEC East, which is a good reminder: Gary Pinkel and his staff can’t be hailed enough for the job they did in winning the East each of the last two years.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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