At the moment Chase Winovich went down, you could see the season flashing before Michigan’s eyes.
After scoring to take a five-point lead in the third quarter, the Wolverines had recovered a fumble only to have Shea Patterson intercepted — for the first time since October — on the very next play.
And then Winovich, who embodies everything about Michigan’s identity, as a defense and as a team, was on the ground, being tended to, walked off, gone.
Of course, the Wolverines’ worst-case scenario never came to pass. Seemingly emboldened by the injury — or at least the repeated cheap shots (there’s no other word for it) from the Hoosiers — Michigan clamped down. Devin Bush and Rashan Gary swarmed Peyton Ramsey, pushing Indiana out of Michigan territory, and that was about as close as the Hoosiers got in an eventual 31-20 win for the Wolverines.
As for Winovich, it seems he’ll be fine. At minimum, things are a whole lot better than they looked.
[After THE JUMP: Winovich and Michigan's identity]
“Things are progressing well with Chase,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters. “X-rays were negative here, at the stadium. And took him to the hospital as well, for further test, CAT scan, etcetera. And those came out negative. So, I think we’re in a good place.”
Harbaugh wouldn’t say which body part Winovich injured. He doesn’t yet know whether Winovich will play next week at Ohio State in a must-win game, not just for this team but for this program and all it wants to be. But it sure seems like Winovich has got a pretty good chance.
In that moment on the field though, it wasn’t the season at stake. It was Winovich and all he means to this team.
This is someone who could be long gone from Ann Arbor, enjoying life in the NFL. Nobody would have blamed him for taking that route. Winovich decided to come back, not just to improve his draft stock, but to win a national title — because he thought the Wolverines were capable of winning a national title.
Going into the season, it was easy to look at that as bluster. After the Notre Dame loss, it was easy to look at that as insanity. Now? The Buckeyes are one hell of an obstacle, and Alabama looms large. But it’s pretty easy to see that Winovich was right about Michigan’s capabilities, no matter how things turn out.
More than that, it’s easy to see how big a reason he is for that capability. It goes far beyond 55 tackles, four sacks and 13 TFLs.
When Winovich was down on the field, Patterson came over to him, wanting to deliver a message.
“I just told him I love him,” Patterson said. “We’re behind him no matter what happens. Again, it’s really all you can do. Just him, with his work ethic and a senior, his last game at the Big House. I just wanted to let him know I was there and the whole team was there for him.”
Winovich leads this team in the truest sense. He fills up any room he walks into. When he talks, people listen. He coined the Revenge Tour and not only did the Wolverines make shirts and hats — they embodied it in their play.
The delightful swagger in their step during the season’s defining three-game stretch — Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State. The way they relished dominating each opponent rather than just winning. That was Winovich’s personality, translated to the team.
His presence, every bit as much as his play, is everything to Michigan. If he made the decision to go to the NFL, the Wolverines may not be going into Columbus with everything to play for. At minimum, the journey there would have been a whole lot less entertaining.
Maybe Winovich plays against Ohio State. Maybe he doesn’t. Either way, that presence will be felt.