Last week, right before kickoff of the Michigan-Indiana game, ESPN-Plus put up its keys of the game. Michigan was given just one: “Be Michigan.”
Forgive me for being confused, but it has been a little hard to tell what that phrase means.
Nearly halfway through the regular season schedule, it seems Michigan has been afflicted with multiple personalities.
For the first three games, Michigan had its offense rolling and national championship aspirations. But the team that showed up against Oregon and Indiana seemed to be a different set of guys – they looked the same at first, but then they started playing. The offense was sluggish, at best. The running game pulled a disappearing act. And the Wolverines didn’t do the little things it takes to win championships, like protect the football and win on the road.
So which team is the real one?
What does “be Michigan” mean?
We’re about to find out.
The Wolverines are entering the meat of their Big Ten schedule and consecutive road games against Iowa and Minnesota will go a long way in revealing Michigan’s identity this season.
Michigan can’t afford another loss if it hopes to hang onto its slim Sugar Bowl chances. And Iowa is no Indiana – not even close – so lack of intensity and an offense that takes two quarters to warm up won’t cut it this week.
Disappointment was the word more than one Michigan player used to describe last week, and the sloppiness baffled receiver Jason Avant.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen John (Navarre) throw an interception in practice,” Avant said. “We had a tremendous week in practice, we just didn’t come out to play.”
Avant does know one thing for sure.
“We can’t play like that. Next time, we will get beat if we play like that,” he said.
Besides gauging the offense as a whole, the Iowa game will be a chance to determine what the real Michigan running game looks like. Chris Perry seemed like a leading Heisman candidate in the first three games, but Saturday he may have to work hard to prove he’s the best back on the field. Iowa’s Fred Russell, whose stats aren’t far behind Perry’s, will be a definite threat to Michigan’s defense.
Michigan’s other challenge, which starts this weekend and continues next week in Minneapolis, is to prove that it can win on the road. Michigan hasn’t won road games in back-to-back weeks since 1999 and has lost at least two games away from home in each of the last three seasons.
Captain Grant Bowman expects the Michigan of the first three games to show up in Iowa City.
“We have the motivation of getting a win on the road,” Bowman said. “We are playing against a tremendous team that beat us last year. I do not think there is any chance of us not being prepared for a game of this caliber.”
Someone told me this week that he thought Saturday’s game could define Michigan’s season. It may seem a little early for that, but he might not have been far off. A loss would put the Sugar Bowl completely out of reach and a Big Ten crown in doubt. A win would make it look like just another conference game – which is what ESPN-Plus’s “Michigan” is supposed to do.
Courtney Lewis can be reached at email@example.com.