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Jim Harbaugh Has Michigan Improving at a Rapid Rate

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistNovember 8, 2015

Jake Rudock put together a career-best day, and his improvement is just one example of Jim Harbaugh's impact.
Jake Rudock put together a career-best day, and his improvement is just one example of Jim Harbaugh's impact.Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

ANN ARBOR, Mich. Jim Harbaugh's first season as the Michigan football program's head coach doesn't look like a Cinderella story, but the Wolverines are writing a captivating first chapter.

Michigan is not merely beating outmatched opponents. No, Harbaugh's team is destroying themlike it did Saturday in Ann Arbor, smashing Rutgers 49-16 and ascending to 7-2 on the year.

After a 2014 season where Michigan lost to Minnesota, Rutgers and Maryland, the Maize and Blue have knocked out Oregon State, UNLV, BYU, Maryland, Northwestern and Rutgers by a combined 209-30 score.

While the college football world anticipated Harbaugh would bring the program back into the national spotlight, this level of performance wasn't expected nine outings into 2015. Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News compared Harbaugh to Steve Kerr:

Tim Kawakami @timkawakami

Geez, Jim Harbaugh at Michigan might be the next Steve Kerr.

The turnaround has started with a mentality change—one that is regularly on display immediately after kickoff. Michigan is flat-out better prepared to take the field each week than last year, last month and last week.

In 2014, Michigan managed a 139-123 advantage during the opening 30 minutes. Under Harbaugh, the Wolverines boast a 165-56 throughout the first half.

And the Wolverines are relentless. Last season's squad was outscored after halftime, but this team holds a 113-51 edge following the break.

Then again, that's merely an extension of the coach.

"He's the ultimate competitor," junior tight end Jake Butt said of Harbaugh. "I think that's pretty clear. At this point, everybody knows that. I think, down to the last tick of the clock, he's going to be competing for everything."

Jake Butt tallied a career-high 102 yards in the 49-16 win.
Jake Butt tallied a career-high 102 yards in the 49-16 win.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

That acquired mentality is most evident on the defensive side of the ball, especially when opponents reach the red zone. Rutgers moved inside the 20-yard line four times, but the Wolverines stood tall and ceded just nine points combined.

"Our red-zone defense was outstanding again today," Harbaugh said. "That's been something that's really, really been good for us. Our defensive coaches do a tremendous job. I don't know if anybody is doing a better job."

In fact, no one is.

Michigan has allowed the fewest red-zone opportunities (16) of any team in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Most importantly for the Wolverines, though, they've given up a touchdown only six times, which would've ranked No. 8 nationally heading into Saturday.

Although the offense isn't perfect, it's good enough to compete with anyone. It's played well enough to win during eight of nine contests. You can comfortably count on one hand how many times Michigan could've said that in 2014.

Senior quarterback Jake Rudock threw for a career-high 337 yards, leading the offense to touchdowns on five straight possessions during the first half. He completed 18-of-25 passes, connecting with 10 different receivers.

"He was just on fire," Harbaugh said of Rudock. "He had a great game, making all the appropriate throws— all the right reads."

Rudock guided the offense down the field for another touchdown on its first possession after halftime, and Michigan was undoubtedly in control. However, even after adding a two-point conversion to go up 27 points, Harbaugh didn't feel that way.

"Maybe it felt like a big lead to you," he said. "We were just battling."

Perhaps that's the biggest change; Nothing felt like a big lead last season. Thanks to Harbaugh and the improvement he's brought to Ann Arbor, it's becoming a regular sight.

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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