ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Sherrone Moore is going to be a head coach. This isn't some hokey conclusion based on Saturday's result in the hatefest that is The Game.
That was a random proclamation from ultimate Michigan Man turned Missing Man himself, Jim Harbaugh. It was in the middle of summer when the Wolverines coach mentioned that Moore, his offensive coordinator, was among a cluster of assistants who would one day run their own programs.
For Moore, Michigan's acting head coach during Harbaugh's three-game Big Ten suspension, it came sooner than expected. Not the way he wanted, perhaps, but right on time.
There will be opinions cussed and discussed from here going forward on how Michigan got to 12-0 and the Big Ten Championship Game for the third straight year. They are discussions that were not even contemplated after Harbaugh and Michigan put Ohio State's Ryan Day on some sort of hot seat last year in this game.
But it will be hard to brush off what a 37-year-old Kansas native, who played JUCO ball before playing 14 games at Oklahoma, has done to get Michigan to within a game of a third straight College Football Playoff appearance. The Wolverines only need to get past punchless Iowa to again put themselves in position for their first national championship in 26 years.
Moore has enhanced a resume that already included two Joe Moore Awards for coaching the nation's best offensive line. He ran a team -- while calling plays amid a maelstrom of alleged Harbaugh-inflicted off-field issues. This while attempting to get rid of doubt about how Michigan got here.
In the process, Moore has made himself hot in a different kind of way. He might be the nation's next hot head coaching model.
Michigan beat Ohio State for the third consecutive season, this time 30-24 in the rivalry's first one-score result in seven years. But before we get to the implications of Day having to trudge back to Columbus, Ohio, carrying the unbearable weight of another loss to The Team Up North, we must discuss why these Wolverines didn't go South during the ongoing sign-stealing scandal.
Moore is now 4-0 and the nation's winningest coach (Bowling Green. That after Moore himself was suspended for the season opener against East Carolina by Michigan, a result of the ongoing NCAA investigation that resulted in Harbaugh being accused of lying to the NCAA about alleged recruiting violations during the COVID-19 pandemic.). It's taken a minute to get there. He was acting coach for one of three games during Harbaugh's first suspension, leading Michigan against
But Moore was swiftly named acting coach earlier this month when the Big Ten suspended Harbaugh. Moore is not only a master play caller, he is also the offensive line coach. His last two units were named the best in the country, winning consecutive Joe Moore Awards.
To be fair, special teams coach Jay Harbaugh, defensive coordinator Jesse Minter and running backs coach Mike Hart all got head coaching opportunities in those first three games. Jim Harbaugh said this summer those guys would eventually lead programs, too.
But it was one thing for Moore to coach Michigan to a nonconference win against a MAC team in a one-off opportunity. It says something else that Harbaugh trusted Moore for this crucial three-game stretch that now includes wins over two top-10 teams.
"All I know is this team is as good as any in the country. And I think they just prove it every week," Moore said after Saturday's rivalry win.
The questions as to how Michigan got to this point melted in another field storming at The Big House. Two years ago, that mosh pit represented unadulterated joy at snapping an eight-game losing streak to the Buckeyes. Saturday was more of an I-told-you-so moment.
Without Harbaugh, in a must-win game, against their biggest rival, with a backup coach, the Wolverines delivered.
"Our guys didn't flinch," Moore said.
He was speaking specifically about his team's response after Ohio State's stout 12-play, 75-yard drive that tied the game 17-17 in the third quarter. Michigan responded with a 75-yard drive of its own that was interrupted by what looked like a serious injury to two-time All-Big Ten offensive lineman Zac Zinter.
In the end, it was about proving for whoever would listen that the Wolverines had achieved this moment legitimately.
"I don't think it feels different," running back Blake Corum said after his final home game. "We know what type of team this is. We handle business. Whatever is going on outside the building doesn't really affect us. The only thing that matters is what's going on within this team. I don't talk to other people about what players we're calling."
Moore himself was different Saturday. He was more measured, at least after the game. There were no tear-stained postgame exhortations mixed with curse words on national television. During the game? Whether Moore outcoached Day is up for discussion, but he was certainly comfortable with his approach.
The former tight ends coach who was hired away from Central Michigan in 2018 worked his way up to a starring role.
"Let's go. That's it," Moore said describing Saturday's play-calling philosophy. "... I told them we were going to be aggressive, wanted to be aggressive -- wanted to attack it."
And so, that's what Moore and the Wolverines did. Michigan was 3 of 3 on fourth down. Moore came out of the third quarter break calling an option pass from Donovan Edwards that eventually led to the touchdown that stood as the winning margin.
A limited J.J. McCarthy threw one of the season's most jaw-dropping scoring passes, a 22-yard rope between two Ohio State defenders to make it 14-3 Michigan in the second quarter.
"You see the throw?" asked an incredulous Roman Wilson, who made the catch.
We did. And Moore gets credit for that, too. It was all gas and some brakes for Michigan. They were going to narrow the game down to a precious few plays. Michigan had only 10 possessions; it scored on six of them.
"I didn't think we proved any of those [critics] wrong," McCarthy said. "We proved ourselves right. We know who we are as a team."
Without throwing Day under the bus, the result was more about a couple of turnovers than some master coaching mismatch. Halfway through the first quarter, Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord threw an ill-advised pass right into the hands of defensive back Will Johnson. Michigan needed only four plays to go 7 yards.
Then, after the Buckeyes defense held late in the game, McCord had a chance to lead another last-minute comeback like he did at Notre Dame. It didn't happen this time. Under pressure while trying to find All-American Marvin Harrison Jr., McCord was intercepted by defensive back Rod Moore.
Day can't get blamed for those passes, but he will be. There was questionable clock management to end the first half. Jayden Fielding was asked to make a career-long 51-yard field goal. He missed. This was a loss to an acting coach with all of four games leading a program under his belt.
Day's name has popped up for the Texas A&M opening, but Ohio State better realize that it actually has college football's real winningest coach (in terms of percentage). It's just that three of his seven losses have come against Michigan in consecutive years.
The result is another year with neither a Big Ten title nor a national championship for Ohio State.
"Probably one of the biggest games in college football history," Rod Moore said from the Michigan point of view.
Might as well pile on the hyperbole. Michigan players afterward stressed that the cheating allegations -- even missing their coach -- didn't matter. McCarthy referenced how Harbaugh spoke to the team Friday night bringing up Bo Schembechler's epic 1983 speech to the Wolverines stressing "the team, the team, the team."
"One thing that really stuck was the whole mantra," McCarthy shared. "[Harbaugh] said, 'We are that team.'"