Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock gets a hug from and offensive lineman Kyle Kalis OL as they walk off the field after their 35-7 win over Oregon State at Michigan Stadium on Saturday, September 12, 2015, in Ann Arbor.
For months, Michigan fans had waited to see Jim Harbaugh in the Big House.
Saturday, they not only got to see him, they got to see his trademark team.
After a first-drive blip, the Wolverines looked like a steamroller on both sides of the ball, crushing Oregon State with a power running game and shutdown defense, dominating for a 35-7 win at Michigan Stadium.
It was slow and methodical — what radio announcer and former U-M All-American Dan Dierdorf called “Bo 101,” the basic brand of football he and Harbaugh once learned as players under the late Bo Schembechler.
Harbaugh hesitated to put that on Oregon State, but he saw visions of the team he wanted — and what the players wanted.
“You want to dominate opponents,” said U-M co-captain and linebacker Joe Bolden, reflecting Harbaugh’s approach. “The most dominating thing that you can do is run the football directly at them and play defense. If you’re running the football, you’re eating up the clock, making their defense tired. Then their offense gets on the field, and you either get a turnover or the ball back (on downs). It definitely ties other teams down to what they can do.
“Football is a game of momentum, and it just zaps it right away from people.”
The Wolverines (1-1) weren’t facing a powerhouse, with the Beavers (1-1) one of the nation’s youngest teams and physically unprepared for a battle on the lines.
Yet little of this philosophy was on display in the season opener at Utah, where Michigan rushed for less than 80 yards as a team and the offensive guards were overwhelmed, pushed back consistently in the run game.
Against Oregon State on Saturday, U-M tripled that total, finishing with 244 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns as the line flexed its muscles, racing to the sidelines, energized.
Most of that came under the arm of junior tailback De’Veon Smith, who finished with 23 carries for 126 yards and three touchdowns.
Anointed as a No. 1 tailback after camp, Smith was thoroughly underwhelming against the Utes, falling at initial contact and missing the few holes there were.
This was his chance to fire back.
“We feel like the offense wore down the defense a lot. We started grounding and pounding it,” he said. “If you have a big back — more than one big back — they’re going to start getting tired. And when you start getting tired, the tackling is bad.”
Smith said the fourth quarter is his favorite part of the game, but he had only one carry in the fourth. He scored his third touchdown just 42 seconds in and caught a two-point conversion, making the margin, 28-7, allowing him to take a seat.
Michigan kept pounding with Derrick Green and Ty Isaac for the last of the 35 unanswered points, but this was Smith’s moment.
It balanced perfectly with the defense, which played the final 3 1/2 quarters of lights-out football, pitching a shutout and allowing just 59 total yards. That was enough to secure the 79-yard, game-opening scoring drive as an aberration.
Twice put in holes with Jake Rudock turnovers, they shut the Beavers down each time, even getting one of their own.
“The reason you play defense is to get the ball back,” Bolden said. “When you get the ball back, especially when they’re driving, that totally flips momentum.”
A dominant defense paired with powerful running game? It’s been awhile. So long that the current Wolverines can’t recall.
“I really don’t remember the last time,” U-M third-year safety Delano Hill said.
New memories for the Wolverines, in an old place for Harbaugh.
“We win as a team,” Harbaugh said. “Everybody does a little, and it adds up to a lot. Focused on contributing to the winning.”
Almost like he had done this before.