The week after the Michigan football team’s historic loss to Appalachian State, it hoped to get back on track against Oregon. But an embarrassing 39-7 loss followed, along with an injury for senior quarterback Chad Henne.
Instead of repairing its tarnished image after the loss to the Mountaineers, Michigan deepened its shame and confirmed its status as a national laughingstock.
“We need a better performance from everyone,” running backs coach Fred Jackson said after the Oregon game. “No one can point fingers. Nobody is going to drop their head and talk about other players. Every guy can play better.”
Following the coaching staff’s challenge, nearly everyone played better – though it also helped that Michigan’s past four opponents have already suffered a combined 14 losses this season.
Now, Michigan is riding a four-game winning streak and is more focused than ever on obtaining a championship, even if it’s not the title its players hoped for at the beginning of the season.
But the Wolverines won’t let their recent win streak fool them into complacency.
“We need to improve every week, but I think that’s the case with every team,” guard Adam Kraus said. “If we were 6-0 right now and scoring 35 points a game, I’d still say we need to improve every week to get better and win the Big Ten Championship.”
Despite entering the season as the favorite to win the conference by both the media and the coaches, Michigan now has five teams ranked above it in The Associated Press poll.
Michigan has to face four of those teams – Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio State – before the season is over. Players and coaches alike know that improvement is a must if they want to contend for a trip to the Rose Bowl.
“We’re not where we need to be,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “But from the standpoint of a team that has given the kind of effort and displayed the kind of things I think you need to be able to compete for a championship, I think those things are there.”
With all non-conference games behind them, the Wolverines can fully focus on their six remaining contests. All but one of the remaining games is against a team with a winning record, and three of those come on the road.
Though the schedule may look daunting on paper, the Wolverines are set on forgetting the start of the season and looking forward.
“It’s going to be typical Big Ten football,” Carr said. “The intensity is just about to pick up. Every team we’ll play is in the same boat. They are either in the (Big Ten) lead or close to the lead, and that brings out the best in everybody.”
With the season already halfway over, there’s no longer room for excuses. Injuries happen to every team and young players have had enough time to gain experience.
The second half of the season has arrived, and it’s time for separation in the jumbled Big Ten Title race.
“We know that we need to play better,” cornerback Morgan Trent said. “We know that these upcoming six games are against great teams.
“We know that we can be a great team, we really can. It is something that we keep trying to keep coming together.”