Wolverines use big second half to remain unbeaten
The Wolverines had a pretty cushy first five weeks of football, playing five times in Michigan Stadium and experiencing only one close call in a narrow and dramatic win over Notre Dame.
But adversity was waiting out there on the road, and the Wolverines came eye-to-eye with it at Northwestern. Trailing 24-14 at the half, Michigan had been its own worst enemy and was finding out how the climate changes when the surroundings are different.
A mistake-riddled first half performance had forced the Wolverines to either rally or experience defeat for the first time in 2011. First-year head coach Brady Hoke gave his team a quick litany of its shortcomings in a halftime rant.
"We were down 10 points. We had thrown three interceptions for one reason or another, we'd had three penalties on ourselves offensively, we were not getting off blocks on the back end defensively, and that's what it was," Hoke snorted. "That's kind of what we talked about, and nothing more, and we talked about how we want to be as a Michigan football team."
It was a pretty simple picture Hoke painted for his under-performing team. Junior WR Roy Roundtree said it took a rehash of the obvious to snap the Wolverines out of their funk and rally for a 42-24 victory. Unbeaten and riding high as they have moved up in the national rankings, the Wolverines (6-0) got the cold slap in the face they apparently needed.
"Coach came in at halftime and told us we weren't playing Michigan football," Roundtree said. "He just told us to go out there and change the game and make an impact in the second half. Guys always stay together, and we just went out there with energy. We never let down; we just went out there and played football."
Michigan senior offensive tackle Mark Huyge said the Wolverines found themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, and in a very uncomfortable and unfamiliar position. Momentum and mojo had been their companions for most of the first five weeks, and now the Wolverines were experiencing the flip side of that coin.
"We knew we had to pick it up a little bit, but we had been in that situation before," Huyge said. "Anything we could do to pick it up we were going to do it. For the most part, we were just going to keep going. The coaches got their point across."
Having weathered that robust challenge, Michigan moves on to bigger and more difficult realms. A trip into East Lansing to face bitter in-state rival Michigan State is up next.
The Spartans are coming off a huge win at Ohio State, and the schedule-makers have given them an additional week to rest up and prepare. As far as testing the mettle of this Michigan team goes, the trip to Northwestern was a pop quiz while Michigan State is going to be the bar exam.
--The Wolverines converted 14 of 17 third down situations in the 42-24 win over Northwestern.
--Michigan has started the season 6-0. Since the 1975 season, every time Michigan has gone 6-0 to start the season it has ended up in the Rose Bowl.
--The Wolverines rolled up 529 yards of offense and scored the game's final 28 points.
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Denard Robinson threw three first-half interceptions as the Wolverines fell behind, but then led them to the game's final 28 points. Robinson went 17-of-26 passing for 337 yards and two touchdowns and added 117 yards and two more touchdowns running the ball.
LOOKING GOOD: Michigan wanted more from its passing game so it could rely less on the running ability of junior QB Denard Robinson. In the win over Northwestern, Robinson settled down after a shaky first half and threw for 337 yards as WR Junior Hemingway caught five passes for 123 yards and WR Roy Roundtree had four catches for 83 yards.
STILL NEEDS WORK: If the Wolverines had a clear-cut psychological Achilles' heel the past few seasons, it was their on-the-road performances in the Big Ten. The game at Northwestern started out eerily similar to some struggles in recent seasons, littered with mistakes and wandering focus. Until this team can roar out of the gate and generate great starts on the road, it can't be considered one of the Big Ten's best.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He made some great throws, he's a tremendous football player and he just let the ball float a little bit on him a couple times -- just overshot it -- that's fundamentals and techniques and things that we have to constantly talk about, but the kid's a competitor and he loves to play, he loves his teammates, and that's what Michigan football is all about." -- Michigan coach Brady Hoke on QB Denard Robinson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--QB Denard Robinson, after turning the ball over three times in the first half, led Michigan to scores on its first three possession of the second half.
--WR Junior Hemingway had five catches for 123 yards against Northwestern.
--LB Kenny Demens forced a fumble that was Northwestern's second turnover of the game. Michigan has forced two or more turnovers in six straight games.
--WR Steve Watson, a fifth-year senior tight end, caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from QB Denard Robinson on Michigan's first series against Northwestern. It was the first reception of Watson's career.
--LB Brandon Herron has missed considerable playing time over the past month with a leg injury. He did not play in the comeback win at Northwestern.
--LB Cam Gordon continues to be sidelined with a chronic back injury.
--WR Junior Hemingway had his arm in a wrap during the week of practice leading up to the Northwestern game for what Michigan coach Brady Hoke described as a "boo boo", but Hemingway played against the Wildcats, catching five passes for 123 yards.