Remember way back on Sept. 1 when Michigan was ranked No. 5 in the nation?
Now, after two blowout victories and three grind-it-out wins, Michigan once again cracked the Associated Press Top 25 poll this past Sunday.
No. 24 doesn’t seem that impressive, but if you consider where this team has come from, the ranking is much more of an accomplishment.
How did the Wolverines, a dismayed group after an 0-2 start, win five in a row and find themselves one of just two unbeaten Big Ten teams in conference play?
It started with a shift in focus.
The story has been told more than once. This edition of the Michigan football team immediately turned its attention to the only realistic goals left on its list after the dismal start to the season.
To win a Big Ten Championship, the Wolverines needed to find the consistent play expected from a preseason No. 5 team.
“We knew when we had those two non-league losses that we still had the Big Ten Championship to look forward to,” senior quarterback Chad Henne said. “For us to be up there, we have to play our best game, keep improving on this game.”
And the Purdue beatdown sure looks like a good start.
Saturday’s game wasn’t supposed to be a one-sided affair. The Michigan defense was expected to struggle against the Boilermaker spread offense, and the Wolverine offense faced the task of finding a consistent deep passing game to stretch the field.
But the unit finally lived up to its potential against Purdue. It ran over the Boilermaker defense with both senior captain Mike Hart in the first half and third-string running back Carlos Brown in the second.
Most important, Henne went to the air early and often. The first play of the game, shockingly, the Wolverines ran a play-action off the traditional Hart rush left, and Henne rolled right and hit wide open tight end Carson Butler for a first down.
The offense was supposed to lead the Wolverines this year. Saturday showed what the offense was expected to become.
Henne credited a good gameplan by offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and quarterbacks coach Scott Loeffler. Michigan strayed from its “complicated” but predictable offense and threw just as often as it ran on first down.
“Looking at our tendencies, we were pretty much a run-on-first-down kind of team,” Henne said. “We had to switch up our tendencies a lot.”
The Wolverines exploited the Boilermakers’ understanding of those tendencies to take the offensive game to the air, and Henne finally connected with his receivers on the deep route.
And Henne could smile after the game because the offense may have found its rhythm. It’s taken six weeks longer than expected, but Saturday put together all the earlier flashes the offense showed.
“Today, you saw the capability that our offense has, that we can go out there and score a lot of points and be balanced,” Henne said. “What we have to do is improve on it and continue that success and be consistent with what we’re doing.”
If the Wolverines want to keep their current winning streak, they’ll have to expect similar performances from Henne and co.
Otherwise, Michigan might find itself 0-2 in a different category – National and Big Ten Championships.
– Wright can be reached at email@example.com.