At halftime, there were few signs Michigan could beat Wisconsin.
Five turnovers — one fewer than in two halves against Notre Dame.
One first down — it came on a broken play.
Minus-seven passing yards — it would have been better if all the passes were incomplete.
But defensive coordinator Scott Shafer didn’t see it that way.
He looked at how his defense handled “sudden-change situations,” when the defense unexpectedly has to go on the field in poor field position.
In four of five first-half sudden-change situations, the Wolverines held Wisconsin’s physical power-running offense to field-goal attempts. Stopping the Badgers on the short field required focus and intensity.
And senior nose tackle Terrance Taylor carried that over to the rest of the team at halftime.
He went around the locker room motivating both offense and defense to play hard for 30 more minutes.
The details of Taylor’s speech weren’t important. It’s that he brought the team together. As well as the defense had played and as anemic as the offense had been, there was no divide in that locker room.
It wasn’t about changing schemes, it was sticking together in the face of adversity — the same way stuck together during workouts with strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis.
They trained together all summer, lifted together after games and spent long hours together in the weight room. After the game, most credited Barwis for infusing resilience into the team.
He talks about pushing his players’ bodies to places they have never been before. Players say they are in the best condition of their lives. But that’s just part of it.
His training creates a diehard mentality.
“In the time of battle, you don’t rise to the occasion. You resort to your level of training,” reads a sign in the Schembechler Hall weight room.
Junior wide receiver Greg Mathews recalled that phrase word-for-word outside the locker room after the game.
It goes back to training all summer, lifting after games and spending long hours together in the weight room.
“The way they worked in the summer, the way they worked during camp with conditioning, I think it showed,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. “It’s not just the shape. I think it’s also a mindset.”
The mantra after the game was that the team never gave up. Junior running back Brandon Minor says Barwis tells the players this all the time. In speech and through the workouts he puts the team through.
Down 19-0 at the half.
Coming back to beat a top-10 team with four second-half touchdowns.
The first half made one thing clear: this offense is not sound enough to compete without the desire it displayed in the second half.
And the second half made another thing clear: no matter how poorly Michigan plays on paper, if the desire and focus are there for the entire game, there’s no telling what the Wolverines can do.
And that mentality could overcome any challenges Michigan has this year.
— Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.