It’s surprising the difference four weeks can make.
Following an 0-2 start to the season, the Michigan football team continued to raise the possibility of a Big Ten championship – but most outsiders thought that goal was out of reach.
Now, the Wolverines are just one of three unbeaten Big Ten teams.
“Really, the Big Ten race is wide open,” safety Brandent Englemon said. “Whoever gets hot at this time of year will take the Big Ten Championship. We’re right there in the mix of everything.”
To stay undefeated in the conference, Michigan (2-0 Big Ten, 4-2 overall) will have to find a way to start off a game with the intensity it has in the second half. Against both Northwestern and Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines played close games until the fourth quarter, and pulled away late.
If Michigan can’t shake its habit of lethargic starts, it could be in trouble against a Purdue team looking to avenge a disappointing home loss to Ohio State last week.
The Boilermakers (1-1, 5-1) played the Buckeyes under the lights at Ross-Ade Stadium. Ohio State jumped out early, and its defense dominated the line of scrimmage. The Buckeyes disrupted Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter’s rhythm, holding the Big Ten’s top offense to just seven points in garbage time.
Still, the Wolverines are wary of Purdue’s quick-strike capability.
“We know they have a very high-powered offense that is capable of putting points up on the board,” cornerback Morgan Trent said on Monday. “We need to be in there, know what we are going to do, get our gameplan down and study a lot of film this week.”
The last time Michigan faced Purdue, the Wolverines escaped from West Lafayette with a 16-14 win in 2004. The game ended when Michigan safety Ernest Shazor stripped Purdue wide receiver Dorien Bryant, and the Wolverines ran out the clock.
Three years later, Bryant has a chance to make up for his costly mistake. He is the focal point of the Purdue spread offense, which often features four- or five-wide receiver sets, similar to the offensive alignments of Appalachian State and Oregon.
“There are only so many things you can do defensively when there’s five wide receivers or when there’s four wide receivers and a tight end or there’s nobody in the backfield,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said.
The Wolverine defense, which was without three starters last week, hopes to return to full strength with linebackers John Thompson and Chris Graham and defensive tackle Will Johnson returning to practice this week.
And if the Wolverines do learn something from the Purdue-Ohio State game last weekend, wide receiver Adrian Arrington would like to see the Michigan offense take advantage of a shaky Boilermaker defense with the deep ball, something that’s been missing from the Wolverine attack this season.
“I feel that we got a lot of guys who can stretch the field, so I hope to see that every game,” Arrington said. “I think that could be a big part of this offense, so we’ll see.”
With another win, the Big Ten championship talk would grow a little louder.