The team's offensive leaders were quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who set a school record with 1,976 passing yards, and Jamie Morris, who rushed for 1,030 yards. Led by consensus first-team All-Americans Mike Hammerstein at defensive tackle and Brad Cochran at cornerback, the defense tallied three shutouts, gave up only 75 points in 11 regular season games (6.8 yards per game), and led the nation in scoring defense. Four Michigan defenders were selected as first-team players on the 1985 All-Big Ten Conference football team: Hammerstein and Mark Messner from the defensive line, linebacker Mike Mallory, and Cochran from the secondary.
On September 14, 1985, Michigan opened its season unranked in the polls and playing Notre Dame (ranked #13 in the AP Poll) at Michigan Stadium in front of 105,523 spectators and a national television audience. The Irish took a 9–3 lead at halftime, but the Wolverines won by a 20–12 score. Running back Jamie Morris rushed for 119 yards on 23 carries, and quarterback Jim Harbaugh completed 7 of 17 passes for 74 yards and rushed for 60 yards on nine carries. Harbaugh and Gerald White each scored a touchdown in the third quarter, and Mike Gillette kicked field goals in the second and fourth quarters. On defense, the Wolverines held Notre Dame to four John Carney field goals, as Allen Pinkett was limited to 89 yards and quarterback Steve Beuerlein was sacked six times. Andy Moeller led the defense with 15 total tackles, including 11 solo tackles. On the second half kickoff, Notre Dame's Alonzo Jefferson fumbled, and Michigan's Dieter Heren recovered to set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Harbaugh. After the game, Michigan coach Bo Schembechler said, "It means we're decent. We're not the dog people think we are." Harbaugh added, "I think the whole team proved we're back. We proved we're not a 6-6 team."
On September 21, 1985, Michigan defeated South Carolina (ranked #15 in the AP Poll), 34–3, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. The victory was the second in two weeks against ranked opponents. Quarterback Jim Harbaugh completed 12 of 22 passes for 164 yards and also rushed for 45 yards and a touchdown. The Wolverines rushed for 324 yards, led by Thomas Wilcher and Jamie Morris with 104 and 95 rushing yards, respectively. Paul Jokisch caught five passes for 115 yards. Michigan's four touchdowns were scored by Harbaugh, Morris, Wilcher, and Gerald White. Mike Gillette also kicked two field goals. On defense, the Wolverines held South Carolina to its lowest point total in three seasons under coach Joe Morrison.
On September 28, 1985, Michigan won its third consecutive game against a ranked opponent, and did not yield a touchdown in any of those games. The third game was a 20–0 shut out against Maryland, ranked #17 in the AP Poll, in front of 105,282 spectators at Michigan Stadium. It was the first meeting between Maryland and Michigan. Jim Harbaugh completed 16 of 20 passes for 196 yards, threw two touchdown passes to tight end Eric Kattus, and also rushed for 32 yards. Jamie Morris added 73 rushing yards on 15 carries, and Mike Gillette kicked two field goals. On defense, Michigan held Maryland scoreless and intercepted four of Stan Gelbaugh's passes, including a third-quarter interception by Doug Mallory after Maryland had driven to Michigan's six-yard line. The shut out was the first given up by Maryland since 1979. After the game, Maryland coach Bobby Ross said, "I don't know if I've seen a quicker defense." With Michigan gaining more yards passing than rushing, columnist Mitch Albom wrote: "Twenty passes, 16 complete. More yards by air than by ground – and two, count 'em, two aerial touchdowns. Yep. Stop blinking. For the Michigan offense, Ol' Mighty Feet, has developed an arm . . ."
On October 5, 1985, Michigan (ranked #7 in the AP Poll) played undefeated Wisconsin in front of 105,491 spectators at Michigan Stadium. Michigan won, 33–6, as Jim Harbaugh threw three touchdown passes, and Jamie Morris rushed for 96 yards. On defense, Michigan held Wisconsin to 60 rushing yards (36 of which came on one run) and intercepted five of Mike Howard's passes. In addition to Harbaugh's three touchdown passes (two to running back Gerald White and one to tight end Eric Kattus), Michigan scored on a 28-yard interception return by cornerback Garland Rivers and two Mike Gillette field goals.
On October 12, 1985, Michigan defeated Michigan State, 31–0, in front of a crowd of 78,235 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan. The victory was regarded at the time as revenge for the Spartans' 19–7 upset of the Wolverines in 1984. Michigan struck early after Michigan State quarterback Bobby McAllister fumbled the snap on the second play of the game, Andy Moeller recovered the ball on the Spartans' 16-yard line, and Jim Harbaugh threw a touchdown pass to tight end Eric Kattus. Less than two minutes after Michigan's first score, Dieter Heren blocked a Greg Montgomery punt, and Ed Hood recovered the ball in the end zone for Michigan's second touchdown. Harbaugh completed 13 of 23 passes, threw two touchdown passes to Kattus and gave up three interceptions. Jamie Morris rushed for 84 yards on 19 carries. Mike Gillette also kicked a field goal. On defense, Michigan held Lorenzo White (who set a Big Ten record with 2,066 yards in 1985) to a season-low 47 yards on 18 carries. The Wolverines' defense also sacked Bobby McAllister three times, intercepted him once, and held him to 83 passing yards.
On October 19, 1985, Michigan faced Iowa in a game matching the #1 and #2 teams in the AP Poll. A writer in the Detroit Free Press described the wide interest in the game: "They called it a mid-season bowl game, the 'Poll Bowl' between No. 1-ranked Iowa and No. 2 Michigan . . . watched by more than 60,000 fans at Kinnick Stadium, millions more on network television and heard by the men and women in all the ships at sea." Iowa won, 12–10, as the lead changed five times and Rob Houghtlin kicked a game-winning, 29-yard field goal as time ran out. Iowa quarterback Chuck Long passed for 268 yards, but Michigan's defense held in the red zone, limiting the Hawkeyes to four field goals. Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh completed 8 of 13 passes for 55 yards, including a six-yard pass to Gerald White in the second quarter for Michigan's only touchdown. Mike Gillette kicked a field goal to give Michigan a 10–9 lead with 10:55 remaining. Houghton missed a 44-yard field goal with 7:33 remaining but converted on his final attempt as time ran out. One week later, Jim Harbaugh noted that, when Houghton's field goal went through the goalposts, "it felt like someone reached in and pulled everything out."
On October 26, 1985, Michigan defeated Indiana, 42–15, in front of a homecoming crowd of 105,629 spectators at Michigan Stadium. Indiana led 9–7 at the end of the first quarter, and the game was tied, 15–15, at halftime, but Michigan outscored the Hoosiers, 27–0, in the second half. Jim Harbaugh completed 17 of 23 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns, and Jamie Morris rushed for 179 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. Harbaugh's 283 passing yards broke Michigan's single-game record of 259 yards set by Chris Zurbrugg in 1984. Tight end Eric Kattus was Harbaugh's favorite receiver with five catches for 123 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown reception. Paul Jokisch also caught four passes for 91 yards. After the game, Harbaugh was asked for his reaction to setting the school's passing record and responded, "Records are nice, but everything we do here is team oriented. Everyone's telling me about the record, but they should tell it to Paul Jokisch and Eric Kattus and John Kolesar. They caught the passes."
On November 2, 1985, Michigan played Illinois to a 3-3 tie before a crowd of 76,397 persons at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois. Each team kicked a field goal in the third quarter. Jamie Morris sustained a bruised shoulder and carried the ball only nine times for 31 yards. In the fourth quarter, Michigan drove the length of the field, but fullback Gerald White fumbled at the Illinois 12-yard line, with the Illini recovering at the nine-yard line. Illinois then drove the length of the field and, with time running out, Chris White (son of Illinois head coach Mike White) lined up for what would have been a game-winning, 37-yard field goal. Dieter Heren tipped the ball, which hit the cross-bar and bounced back, and the game ended in a tie. After the game, Illinois coach White said, "I don't remember feeling worse after a game. . . . I'm devastated."
On November 9, 1985, Michigan defeated Purdue, 47–0, before a crowd of 105,503 spectators at Michigan Stadium. The shutout came against a Purdue squad that had been averaging 482 yards of total offense and was led by quarterback Jim Everett who led the nation in total offense (3,589 yards) for the 1985 season. The Wolverines held Everett to 12 of 22 passing for 96 yards. Purdue as a whole was held to 104 yards of total offense and did not advance past its own 44-yard line. On offense, Michigan totaled 551 yards. Jim Harbaugh completed 12 of 13 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns. The Wolverines also rushed for 275 yards, led by Phil Webb (97 yards) and Jamie Morris (73 yards). After the game, head coach Bo Schembechler praised the defense: "This defense scares me. It's not realistic. If you had bet everything you had that we'd play (Jack) Trudeau, (Chuck) Long and Everett and they'd not get into the end zone . . . it would be 1,000-to-1."
On November 16, 1985, Michigan defeated Minnesota, 48-7, at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. Prior to playing Michigan, Minnesota led the conference with 231.8 rushing yards per game behind running quarterback Rickey Foggie, but the Wolverines held the Golden Gophers scoreless through the first three quarters, led 48-0 at the start of the fourth quarter, and limited Foggie to 28 rushing yards. Minnesota's touchdown, the second allowed by Michigan during the season, came with 4:42 left in the game and with Michigan's second-string defense on the field.Chip Lohmiller's extra point was the first allowed by Michigan during the 1985 season.
Michigan jumped to an early lead capitalizing on three Minnesota mistakes in the first 18 minutes - a fumble recovery by Andy Moeller at the Minnesota 28-yard line, an interception by Ivan Hicks at Minnesota's 39-yard line, and a blocked punt by David Arnold. Jim Harbaugh completed 13 of 18 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns, and fullback Gerald White rushed 19 times for 92 yards. Paul Jokisch caught five passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns. After the game, Harbaugh praised the offensive line, noting, "I've never had more time to throw in my life - junior high, high school." Gilvanni Johnson also returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown. Mike Gillette also kicked two field goals to break Bob Bergeron's school record for field goals in a season. Harbaugh's 13 completions against Minnesota gave him 123 for the season, breaking the school record of 118 set by Steve Smith in 1982.
After the game, Minnesota head coach Lou Holtz called it "a near-flawless performance by Michigan."
On November 23, 1985, Michigan defeated Ohio State, 27–17, before a crowd of 106,102 at Michigan Stadium. The game was tied at 10–10 at halftime, but the Wolverines dominated the third quarter, possessing the ball for almost 12 of the 15 minutes and scoring 10 points to take a 20–10 lead. In the fourth quarter, Ohio State closed the gap to three points on a fourth-down, 36-yard touchdown pass to All-Big Ten receiver, Cris Carter. Less than a minute later, Jim Harbaugh completed a 77-yard touchdown pass to freshman John Kolesar, giving Michigan a 10-point lead with nine minutes remaining in the game. Coach Schembechler said after the game that the 77-yard touchdown was "a play that took the starch right out of their sales." Columnist wrote after the game that Harbaugh's pass to Kolesar was an image that would last: "The image that repeats will be that of Jim Harbaugh dropping back in the fourth quarter and uncorking a soaring spiral that rose high and long as flanker John Kolesar ran underneath it, his steps seemingly in sync with the revolutions of the ball, so when it fell, it fell right into his arms, almost gently . . ." Harbaugh completed 16 of 19 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns, and fullback Gerald White rushed for 110 yards on 29 carries. After the game, Harbaugh said, "I know it sounds a little cocky, but I think we're the best team in the country."
On January 1, 1986, Michigan defeated Nebraska (ranked #7 in the AP Poll), 27-23, in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl. Nebraska led 14-3 at halftime, but Michigan scored 24 unanswered points in the third quarter, fueled by two Nebraska fumbles and a blocked punt recovered at Nebraska's six-yard line. Asked about his halftime speech that led to the third-quarter turnaround, Coach Schembechler said, "I'm not Knute Rockne. I don't have to yell all the time at halftime. I simply told 'em we had to stop their first drive, get the ball and score." Michigan running back Jamie Morris rushed for 156 yards on 22 carries and was named the game's offensive MVP. Quarterback Jim Harbaugh completed only 6 of 15 passes for 63 yards, but scored two touchdowns on runs of one and two yards. Nebraska outgained Michigan 370 yards to 234.
Sixteen (16) members of the 1985 Michigan football team went on to play professional football. They are: Bobby Abrams (New York Giants, 1990–92; Cleveland Browns, 1992; Dallas Cowboys, 1992–1993; Minnesota Vikings, 1993–1994; New England Patriots, 1995), David Arnold (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1989); Jumbo Elliott (New York Giants, 1988–95, New York Jets, 1996–2000, 2002); Mike Hammerstein (Cincinnati Bengals,1986-1990); Jim Harbaugh (Chicago Bears, 1987–93, Indianapolis Colts, 1994–97; Baltimore Ravens, 1998; San Diego Chargers, 1999–2000; Detroit Lions, 2001; Carolina Panthers, 2001); Ivan Hicks (Detroit Lions, 1987); Gilvanni Johnson (Detroit Lions, 1987); Eric Kattus (Cincinnati Bengals, 1986–91; New York Jets, 1992); Mark Messner (Los Angeles Rams, 1989); Clay Miller (Houston Oilers, 1987); Jamie Morris (Washington Redskins, 1988–89; New England Patriots, 1990; Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 1991); Bob Perryman (New England Patriots, 1987–90, Denver Broncos, 1991-92); Jerry Quaerna (Detroit Lions, 1987); Garland Rivers (Chicago Bears, 1987, Albany Firebirds, 1990–91, Arizona Rattlers, 1992–93); John Vitale (San Antonio Riders, 1991, Detroit Drive, 1993–94); and Gerald White (Dallas Cowboys, 1987).
On November 26, 1985, Michigan announced team honors. With 75 total tackles and 22 tackles for loss, senior defensive tackle Mike Hammerstein received the team's most valuable player award. Other team awards went to: