I imagine Purdue fans were smiling if they found themselves watching the Michigan football team’s matchup with Air Force.
Sure, the seventh-ranked Wolverines won, 29-13, and remained undefeated, but they had to endure another unsettling afternoon. Barely beating a so-called ‘inferior’ opponent doesn’t bode well when three top-10 teams remain on the schedule.
The Big Ten season starts away at Purdue next weekend, and the Boilermakers have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about their chances of upending Michigan.
After all, the Wolverines have been the ones struggling. Their upcoming opponents have not.
Purdue (1-1) handled No. 14 Louisville well on opening weekend, losing by only a touchdown. The week after that, the Boilermakers whooped Ohio, 44-21.
Just up the road, Michigan State is 2-0 with a pair of comfortable wins.
Meanwhile, No. 5 Penn State (2-0) is crushing every team in its path. The Nittany Lions won their first two games by a combined score of 85-14. To be fair, they played Akron and Pittsburgh. To be fair again, Michigan has played Cincinnati and Air Force. Those four teams aren’t much different.
In Madison, the 10th-ranked Badgers (2-0) keep winning as well.
And of course: No. 8 Ohio State (1-1). If Michigan can’t find a solution to its offensive struggles, taking down quarterback J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes at the end of the season is not going to be easy. The consequences of the Ohio State game might not even matter if the struggles keep repeating.
Nonetheless, amidst all the criticism, the coaches and players have remained positive. They don’t express much concern in front of the media, but in reality, there is concern to be had.
Relying on the defense and special teams isn’t going to get them very far in conference play. The team knows it, too.
“We know (the defense is) top tier, and we know they’re going to do their job,” said junior running back Karan Higdon. “We still got to do our job as an offense. … We got to do our part and not make it as hard on the defense.”
Fixing the mistakes doesn’t fall on one player, either. Criticizing redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight would be easy, but it’s really the entire offensive unit that has struggled to produce.
They’re moving the ball downfield well — Speight threw for 169 yards and the team gained 190 yards on the ground — but when they get into a scoring situation, something isn’t clicking.
Michigan didn’t score an offensive touchdown against Air Force until there was a minute left in the game.
It was the same story as last week, the same struggle we saw against Cincinnati. The Wolverines have scored only one touchdown on 10 red zone trips this season.
Air Force handed Michigan chances, too. Two botched punts gave the Wolverines starting field position in Air Force territory, and both of those times Michigan had to settle for field goals.
They were the type of scenarios that a great offense would capitalize on, but Michigan’s wasn’t up to the task.
“If you’ve ever been on a football field, and one side might not be going right, it’s easy to point fingers,” said redshirt junior defensive end Chase Winovich. “Great teams don’t do that, even if something isn’t coming along as much as you like.”
At the end of the day, Michigan came out victorious, and the Wolverines still hold a perfect record. But after beating Florida, it seemed like it would be smooth sailing until a trip to Happy Valley in late October. The real test shouldn’t have started until they played Penn State.
Now it’s clear, the test has already started, and the Wolverines have managed to escape back-to-back scares.
“If one guy makes a hiccup, it can cost the whole offense,” Higdon said.
When an entire offense has the hiccups, though, it could cost Michigan a win.
With the Big Ten season now upon them, we’re about to find out what really happens when the Wolverines get punched in the mouth.