Michigan football desperately needs a win over Washington that isn’t at a conference

ANN ARBOR, me. – Seven years after the Jim Harbaugh era, whether Michigan football wins or loses the game in Washington on Saturday night is pretty easy to see what the story will be like.

With a win, Michigan will likely jump into the top 25 on the AP rankings. The fans will not be satisfied, but at least for now they will be reassured. The shortened 2020 season is going to look more like an outlier, and the Wolverines have a legitimate chance to start the season off with a nice winning streak.

But what if Michigan loses? Oh boy.

This fan base doesn’t handle losses well, and the college football universe is always closed and loaded to beat up Harbaugh. We have seen many times how this combination can create a toxic atmosphere after loss.

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The game in Washington is one of the matches on Michigan’s schedule that could go either way, and these duels will determine whether the final record is closer to 6-6 or 9-3.

What we saw in the Western Michigan game was encouraging. Cade McNamara – if not explosive – was his usual, dependable self who directed the offensive. Blake Corum played exceptionally well as a co-starting running back, and a handful of receivers helped.

Michigan recipient AJ Henning (3) and recipient Roman Wilson (14) celebrate Henning’s touchdown reception with fans in the third quarter or an NCAA soccer game against Western Michigan on Saturday, September 4, 2021, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (The Associated Press 2021)

Obviously the first week wasn’t nearly as friendly to Washington. The Huskies dropped their opener against Montana, scoring just seven points and flipping the ball three times. Washington was strong on the defense, holding Montana to a total of 232 yards. But the offensive just couldn’t keep up.

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READ: How Washington’s loss to Montana changed the feel of this week’s night game

Michigan’s defense was not productive in the turnover department. Last season it finished 120th in the country with three forced turnovers in six games. Michigan ranked 40th (2019), 90th (2018), 81st (2017), 67th (2016) and 118th (2015) in total sales enforced during the Harbaugh era.

Washington lost their opener because Dylan Moore threw three interceptions, but if Michigan can’t take advantage of their mistakes, the Huskies will have a much easier time scoring points.

Speaking of Washington misdemeanors, former Michigan recipient Giles Jackson returns to Ann Arbor in purples and gold. Jackson had 19 rushing yards, 15 receiving yards, and 38 kick return yards on his Huskies debut. He will surely be motivated to perform in the Big House again.

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McNamara, meanwhile, needs someone to fill the void left by Ronnie Bell’s injury. If he hadn’t switched, that player might have been Jackson. Instead, a combination of Michigan’s young wide receivers will play a bigger role. Cornelius Johnson, Daylen Baldwin, Roman Wilson and AJ Henning feel like obvious candidates.

RELATED: Despite Ronnie Bell’s injury, it’s ridiculous to claim he shouldn’t have returned boats

We still don’t know exactly what to expect from Michigan. Can the offense score against a defense that looked dominant in the opening game? Are Mike MacDonald’s defensive improvements enough to throw the Huskies offensive out of sync?

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A win would go a long way towards erasing bad memories of last season. If Michigan loses – well, you know how that story plays out.

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