Throughout the first half of this season, there were many changes for the No. 17 Michigan football team.
A new coaching staff. New uniforms. New players. A new attitude.
But even after a 28-14 loss to No. 9 Michigan State, there’s been one constant in the Wolverines’ locker room.
“Our confidence has never waivered,” said senior defensive tackle Mike Martin before practice on Wednesday. “We’ve never had any doubt. We don’t want to lose again. That’s something that we won’t forget, but it’s something that we need to move on from.”
The team has been bombarded with questions of how this season will be different than the past three, all of which included second-half meltdowns.
The Wolverines have said all the right things, stressing that there’s a different feel than in years past, and the seniors won’t let the same thing happen. Now, after a bye week, the Wolverines have a chance to prove it on the field.
According to Michigan coach Brady Hoke, they’ve shown it in practice.
“The way they practiced (Tuesday), I think there was a confidence that they have,” Hoke said. “I think that part of it is one that you wanted to see as a coach. There was even more physicalness to how we practiced yesterday.”
On Saturday, Michigan (2-1 Big Ten, 6-1 overall) will have its first chance to prove it in a game environment against Purdue (2-1, 4-3) — a team that seems to be hitting its stride in the second half of the season. The Boilermakers have won two out of their last three, including an upset of then-No. 23 Illinois last week.
Martin praised Purdue but stressed that what the Boilermakers do is out of the Wolverines’ control.
“They’re doing a great job,” he said. “On our side of it, we just gotta make sure we prepare the best that we can. This game is about Michigan. What it comes down to is what we do, how we execute, and how much intensity we play with.
“With our confidence, that’s something we know that we’re going to take care of on the field this coming Saturday and for weeks to come.”
SIGNS OF CHANGE: Until this week, posters scattered throughout Schembechler Hall served as a constant reminder of the upcoming opponent.
The week before the Michigan State game, the signs read, “BEAT MSU.” Before Notre Dame weekend, “Beat the Irish.” It’s a tradition Hoke brought with him since his head coaching days at Ball State and San Diego State.
But on Wednesday, signs of Purdue were nowhere to be found. Instead, the posters said simply, “Michigan Game Week”.
Hoke downplayed the significance of the change.
“You’ve got an opponent to play, which makes it a very competitive thing,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s about us. It’s about us and how we prepare and how we practice.”
REDSHIRT RUMBLINGS: It’s every young bench player’s favorite time of year — Redshirt Season.
On Wednesday, Hoke mentioned it’s unlikely that any player who has yet to play this season will see game action for the remainder of the year.
“I think with what we’ve done so far, we’re at our limit,” he said.
That means freshman running back Justice Hayes, a four-star recruit out of Grand Blanc High School, will redshirt this year, barring any serious injuries in the near future.
Hoke didn’t mention any other names specifically, but he did talk a little bit about the status of fifth-year senior linebacker Marell Evans.
Evans, who transferred back to Michigan this season after a two-year hiatus, has yet to dress for a game this year because of issues with his transfer eligibility.
With five games remaining this season, his status still remains unclear and it appears doubtful he will see the field this year. But Evans is still making his presence on the team known.
“He busts his butt out there as a scout team linebacker,” Hoke said. “He’s been a great teammate.”
There’s a chance Evans could return next season as a sixth-year senior, though “there’s a lot of hoops to go through,” according to Hoke.
NOTES: On Saturday, Martin will battle against a former high school foe in Purdue senior wide receiver Justin Siller. Martin, a Detroit Catholic Central grad, spent much of his high school career chasing after the speedy Siller, a former Orchard Lake St. Mary’s quarterback … Hoke said the competition at left guard between redshirt junior Ricky Barnum — the former starter who recently returned from an ankle injury — and redshirt sophomore Michael Schofield is still ongoing in practice. … Redshirt sophomore left tackle Taylor Lewan, who injured his ankle against Michigan State, has practiced all this week and will be ready to start against the Boilermakers.