April 21, 2024

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — At 3:18 p.m. Saturday, almost exactly 24 hours after news dropped that the Big Ten had suspended Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, the final seconds ticked off the third-ranked Wolverines’ biggest win of the season.

That’s when the hugs and tears began for Sherrone Moore.

Michigan’s 37-year-old offensive coordinator, who served as acting head coach for Saturday’s 24-15 win at No. 10 Penn State, had mostly kept his composure during the game. He confronted offensive lineman LaDarius Henderson during a timeout between quarters. He pumped his fist after a Donovan Edwards touchdown run. He turned toward Michigan fans behind the bench after Blake Corum‘s win-clinching touchdown with 4:15 left and screamed, “Let’s go!”

Moore admitted he mostly held it together until the game was over, and then let it all out. After an emotional and explicit interview with Fox immediately after the game, Moore hugged Corum and then cornerback Mike Sainristil. Up next: a long embrace with Albert Karschnia, Michigan’s director of recruiting operations, who goes back with Moore to their time at Central Michigan.

Then, it was time for the offensive linemen, Moore’s guys, the group he helped win back-to-back Joe Moore Awards as the best unit in the country. Moore squeezed senior guard Zak Zinter, before walking toward the Michigan crowd with senior guard Trevor Keegan.

“It was built up,” Moore said. “Just thinking about our players and how hard they’ve worked, through all this craziness and all the situations that’s going on. … For us to come to this environment and win was huge. I just think about [Harbaugh], man. Love that man with all my heart. Just such a great person, great human, great coach. Just wanted to do it for him.”

Moore and the Wolverines knew the week would be bumpy, as the Big Ten mulled discipline for the program. More details had emerged about the signal-stealing operation allegedly led by former staff member Connor Stalions, which had prompted an NCAA investigation. Harbaugh had told Moore that if the Big Ten opted for a suspension, Moore would step in.

Still, nothing could prepare Michigan for Friday, when the Big Ten’s decision loomed, even after the Wolverines had boarded buses and a plane bound for central Pennsylvania. The team only heard from the Big Ten after ESPN broke the suspension news. Keegan, who found out when his phone blew up upon landing, sarcastically called the timing “terrific.”

As Harbaugh and Michigan’s legal team prepared their response in an attempt to stop the suspension, the team went through its normal Friday night routine. Sometime around dinner, defensive lineman Kris Jenkins pulled out his phone and posted a one-word message on social media: Bet. It soon caught on with university president Santa Ono and former quarterback Tom Brady joining in.

“Obviously the news and everything that happened, it pissed off a lot of guys,” Keegan said. “We didn’t want to dwell on it, so it was kind of like joking around at dinner, like, ‘Should we tweet it? Yeah, sure.’ It was like nothing out of the ordinary. It was just to get our minds off of it.”

Harbaugh addressed the players in a team meeting Friday, telling them to feed into their anger and bring an edge to the field. The spotlight on the program since the NCAA investigation broke last month had amplified during the past week, providing plenty of fuel. After the game, Corum, who had blood running down his face, referenced a video Penn State posted on social media that included defensive coordinator Manny Diaz using hand signals and asking the fans to show up early — “They left some bait out there this week, we know what that was” — as another motivator.

When Michigan’s buses pulled up to Beaver Stadium at 9:26 a.m., Moore was among the first to disembark. At that moment, he said he didn’t know if Harbaugh would be cleared to coach. Michigan had transportation ready for Harbaugh at the team hotel about 20 minutes from Beaver Stadium, if a judge in Ann Arbor granted a temporary restraining order.

“We were ready at any point that it could happen, it couldn’t happen,” Moore said. “We were just prepared to adjust however we needed to.”

About 90 minutes before kickoff, Michigan got word that Harbaugh’s suspension would hold, at least for one game. The team then had to perform.

“This was a tournament game for us, a playoff game for us, so we knew we had to do whatever we needed to do to win,” Moore said. “It’s been a crazy 24 hours, but at the same time, our team is built for this, our staff is built for this. We’re all built for it.”

Although Harbaugh wasn’t on the sideline, Michigan used his blueprint to bully Penn State. The Wolverines didn’t finish with 418 rushing yards like last season, but they did tally 227 and three touchdowns against the nation’s No. 1 rushing defense. They ran the ball on their final 32 plays of the game — their only pass attempt nullified because of a Penn State penalty. It marked Michigan’s longest streak of consecutive rushing attempts in any game over the past 20 seasons.

Michigan’s last completed pass went for no gain to tight end Colston Loveland with about 6:30 left in the first half. But the run-heavy offense didn’t take away the excitement for quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who pumped his arms as he ran through the tunnel after the game.

“We’re driven, not motivated,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy praised Moore’s passion and work ethic, and described Moore’s postgame emotion as “a proud dad moment.” Moore was a mostly unknown Central Michigan assistant when Harbaugh brought him to the staff in 2018 to coach tight ends. He shifted to offensive line two years later and is now one of the nation’s top young coordinators.

“I’m a pretty calm guy, but there’s a lot of emotions,” Moore said. “This place is like home to me, home to my family, so it’s very deep. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I work extremely hard as we all do. So it meant a lot for us to get this win in this situation.”

Moore is in line to become a permanent head coach soon. He likely would be a strong candidate to replace Harbaugh at Michigan, whenever Harbaugh decides to move on. Asked how he would remember this win, and the 24 hours that led up to it, Moore calmly talked about the need to live in the moment.

But his face after the clock ran out told a different story. Keegan called Moore “a natural leader.”

“He’s just got that special energy about him that we feed off of,” Keegan said. “It was awesome. His first time in a head coaching role, and he did a terrific job.”

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