Michigan Football: Jim Harbaugh’s style reminiscent of Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes


Some call it smash-mouth football and others call it big-boy football, but one thing’s for sure, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is a strong believer.

Harbaugh learned the tough-nose style when he played quarterback for  legendary coach Bo Schembechler (1983-86) and from his dad Jack, a Michigan assistant from 1973-79.

The system, which was perfected by the iconic Woody Hayes at Ohio State from 1951-78, called for stopping the run, running the football and playing sound defense.  Passing was almost an afterthought in the Big Ten during the ’50’s and early ’60’s because games were often played under windy, rainy and sloppy conditions.

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In fact, Woody often quipped, “There are three things that can happen when you pass, and two of them aren’t good.”

Schembechler, who played and coached under Hayes, added the 52-angle defense to the system and set out to beat the old master when he took the Michigan job in 1969.

In what’s been called the upset of the century, Bo pummeled Woody 24-12 in the final game of the 1969 season.

Harbaugh was always close to Schembechler, from when he and his brother John (Baltimore Ravens head coach) were youngsters , to when Harbaugh became Bo’s quarterback. The old coach continued to have an influence on Harbaugh, especially when he was beginning his coaching career.

"“When I got my first coaching job at the University of San Diego I called my coach, Bo Schembechler and told him I was head coach at the University of San Diego.“Before he said ‘congratulations’ or anything Bo said, ‘Jimmy, tell me you’re going to have a tight end that puts his hand in the ground on every snap. Tell me that you will have a fullback that lines directly behind the quarterback and a halfback in the I-formation.’”Harbaugh simply replied, “‘Yes coach, we will have that.’”To which Schembechler said, “‘Good. Congratulations on getting the job.’’"

Harbaugh later took the style to Stanford and the NFL San Francisco 49ers.

LSU’s Les Miles, who also played and coached under Schembechler, is is also an advocate of the smash-mouth system.

When LSU and Alabama played for the 2011 national championship, Les Miles called it big-boy football.

"“And Miles remembers his roots.” says Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman. “He’s a Michigan Man, a Bo Schembechler disciple, and Bo would be proud of the style Miles’ LSU team plays.“Tough,  hard-nosed, with plenty of fullbacks and tight ends and snot-eating linebackers and defensive linemen on a collision course with the NFL.”"

Michigan has already benefited from Harbaugh’s system, especially on defense. The Wolverines, and Saturday’s opponent Northwestern (5-0, 1-0), have two of top defenses in the nation. Following is how the two teams compare statistically on defense:

  • Stopping the run: Michigan is ranked No. 5 nationally  at 71.4 yards-per-game.
  • Scoring defense: U-M rated No. 2 nationally at 7.6 points-per-game, while NW is first at 7.0.
  • Total defense: U-M second at 184 yards-per-game, while NW is fifth at 247.4,
  • Passing yards allowed: U-M third at 112.6 while NW is seventh at 130.
  • 3rd down conversion pct, defense: U-M No. 1, .194,  NW No. 2, .200.

Michigan, which enters Saturday’s game as 8-point favorites, statistically has one job to do. That’s stopping Wildcat running back Justin Jackson, who so far this season has 138 carries, 626 yards, and a 4.6 average.

Jackson played in last year’s 10-9 Michigan victory, but was held to 35 yards on 17 carries.

Next: Big Ten Power Rankings

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